By Stephen Smoot
Every four years, Federal Transit Administration requires that community transportation planning meetings occur so that the West Virginia Department of Transportation can continue to receive funding. Region 8 hosted this important meeting last Friday.
Kelly Shawn, from RLS and Associates, led the meeting. The goal of the event lay in first familiarizing participant stakeholders with the process, then discussing how to bridge gaps in service. Doug Pixler and Suzanne Park represented the transit authority, accepting the mandate that “PVTA is here to grow their service to the community.”
The mandates started in 2004 with the passage of the United We Ride Bill. Over 60 federal agencies incorporated some kind of transportation funding assistance. This measure connected all of these efforts under a single umbrella. Shawn informed the room that the 2019 plan had grown obsolete, making the required planning process even more important.
Stakeholders joined from around the region, including almost 20 representatives from social service agencies, local government, higher education, and other groups linked to regional transit efforts and policy.
Shawn explained that public transportation entities needed “creative transit services” to reach “geographically undesirable” customers. These are individuals or families who need public transportation, but live in very remote areas. He praised the state, saying that “West Virginia is one of the states that really stands out in support for local transit.” He added that PVTA also goes the extra mile for the region and its customers.
He then stated that “this is a cross-section of the community. You all are influencers in your community. You are the ones that are in the area and can identify gaps and needs.” Groups that need help the most include veterans, low income individuals and families, disabled individuals, and seniors.
Park explained that PVTA struggles to provide medical transport for Medicare patients because, unlike Medicaid, Medicare does not pay for transport. She said, “Trying to get them help is almost impossible.” Additionally, riders who need assistance getting to their appointments cannot rely on help from drivers or other PVTA staff because the service is curb to curb only.
Pixler said, “Our drivers are not able to assist in the way these people need. Many of our drivers are older as well.”
Janice Lantz from Pendleton Senior and Family Services added that many live out roads or driveways that PVTA cannot access because of challenging conditions. Bruce Minor, PVTA board member and Franklin Town councilman, explained that in his service with the rescue squad, “we have a lot of patients that we take. They say ‘how am I going to get home?’ It’s disheartening to have a patient in the ER ask me to take him home and I can’t.”
Greg Greenwalt from Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College said that language barriers make PVTA difficult for some riders. Hardy County has significant numbers of residents speaking one or more of 16-18 separate identifiable languages or dialects. Communication between drivers and riders can prove cumbersome or even impossible.
Communications from PVTA to the region can also face problems. Pixler gave an example, saying that “it is difficult in Pendleton County. We try a number of services, but there’s no response. It’s difficult to communicate.” He agreed that an app could help considerably in areas with internet service.
Resources also present a challenge. As Park said, “We do not have enough people or vehicles to cover everyone. There is so much more demand than our capacity to provide services.” She added, “We are all day on the road.”
This represented only the initial meeting in the series. Next, the community will be asked to take the ideas floated last week and start putting together a plan.
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