Partnerships for Equitable TransitGary Coles, Strategic Advisor, MV Transportation
Despite the changing climate for transit and mobility, transformed by shifting demographics and remote work trends, there remains a basic need to provide safe, reliable, economical and equitable public transportation. With transit agencies held accountable to shrinking budgets and environmentally friendly goals, it’s no longer feasible to continue to send big buses out on routes where they may run mostly empty, which often runs counter to reaching the economically disenfranchised communities that need them most. The cities that are solving these problems today are using a strikingly low-tech approach – partnerships – to create solutions that work for all the key stakeholders.
One successful example is Palm Beach County, Florida. While known for its sandy beaches and upscale towns like West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, the expansive county, with over 2,000 square miles, stretches nearly 50 miles inland to the edge of the Florida Everglades. This is where you’ll find small rural and diverse communities including Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay, with some of the county’s most vulnerable citizens. With no taxi or Transportation Network Company (TNC) service, and an existing county service being shut down due to lost funding, the region was on the cusp of becoming a transit desert.
Challenged by Palm Tran Executive Director Clinton B. Forbes to “Think outside the box,” stakeholders including the state, county, Palm Tran and MV Transportation, Palm Tran’s transit partner dating back to 2014, worked hand-in-hand to develop a flexible dial-a-ride service called “Go Glades” that was uniquely tuned to the needs of this community. MV closely involved our labor partners and workers – many with decades of experience transporting local passengers. Our teams are trained to be good listeners and knew how their riders relied on public transit to get to their jobs, grocery stores, doctor appointments and other life-sustaining activities.
With initial funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, MV and Palm Tran made the key early decision to base the service within the Glades community to avoid costly deadhead or park-outs that plagued earlier transit models. With a new facility, the team made an immediate economic impact by hiring more than 20 drivers locally as well as engaging local small businesses to support various aspects of the operation. The “Go Glades” pilot launched on January 23, 2019 with four circulator routes serving more than 70 stops throughout the region. It used smaller busses with an effective capacity that was most cost effective for the expected demand. The new service enabled people to board and arrive at fixed route stops or with a slight detour, predetermined upon time of scheduling via telephone.
One telling example of the transit team’s invested participation in developing a workable solution involved an operator who had repeatedly seen a family walking along the roadway and one day stopped to ask them why they were not using the service. They responded that they had small children and the transit vehicles did not have car seats. Inspired by that discussion, car seats were purchased and put on each vehicle to ensure they were family friendly.
Go Glades is a practical example of how cities, transit agencies and key stakeholders are successfully partnering and “thinking out of the box” to improve travel mobility with tailored solutions that are safe, reliable and meet the unique needs of their communities. Go Glades also proves what many of us have known for years – that a strong transit system can fuel the economic engine that helps our communities grow and thrive.
Note: In July 2020, the National Association of Counties awarded Palm Tran the “Achievement Award in Transportation” for Go Glades, as an innovative, effective county government program that strengthen services for residents.