FTA Recognizes Outstanding Rural Transit Agencies That Have Gone Above and Beyond for Their Communities Amid the Pandemic
WASHINGTON – Six rural transit agencies that helped connect their communities and deliver critical services over the past year received national recognition today. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) named agencies in Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska and Texas as recipients of the "Connecting Rural Communities" Award for their exemplary work during the pandemic to provide transportation to essential workers and improve the quality of life in their communities. FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez announced the awards as part of the National Conference on Rural, Public and Intercity Bus Transportation.
"From converting buses into vaccination clinics, to delivering meals to senior citizens and students, to bringing healthy groceries to food deserts and reaching underserved people, these six transit agencies and their workers went above and beyond," said Administrator Fernandez. "Our agency is proud to support transit agencies around the country who are playing such essential roles in the communities they serve."
Since 1985, FTA has recognized great work in rural transit by presenting Administrator’s Awards for Outstanding Public Transportation Service in Rural Public Transportation. This year's "Connecting Rural Communities" awards recognize rural transit providers that have improved the mobility of Americans in rural areas. Specifically, these systems served their communities by providing access to vital services during the COVID-19 pandemic, advanced equity for all, including individuals who have been historically underserved and adversely affected by persistent poverty or income inequality, and improved the safety of rural transit. In recognition of the importance of supporting rural transit, the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal includes historic funding for public transit, including $4.4 billion specifically for Rural Area Formula Grants.
The rural transit providers recognized by FTA are:
Kimball County Transit Services in Kimball, Nebraska: KCTS got creative during the pandemic in assessing and serving the needs of rural residents in a tri-state area that includes parts of Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. KCTS went above and beyond its typical services to deliver groceries and pharmacy items to residents, including 200 school lunches a day to quarantined students in underserved communities. In addition, KCTS transported people to COVID-19 testing sites and provided free rides to vaccination sites. They made their buses available to be used as clinics, with nurses administering vaccines onboard. And beyond pandemic-related services, KCTS recently introduced new dispatching and scheduling software that has increased efficiencies in service and improved safety for riders and bus operators.
TransIT Services in Frederick County, Maryland: TransIT took on many community services during the pandemic. Working with the local Meals on Wheels and the county’s Senior Services Division, TransIT reassigned a team of drivers and activated transit vehicles to assist with food distribution to older adults. TransIT staff also converted one of its electric buses into a mobile clinic that traveled to underserved communities to deliver vaccinations. Since then, several hundred people have received shots on the “vax bus.” TransIT started providing fare-free services in late March 2020 and will continue this service through Fall 2021. TransIT has also worked to improve safety and protect operators during the pandemic by installing driver barriers on each of its fixed-route buses, shuttles, and paratransit vehicles.
Franklin Regional Transit Authority in Greenfield, Massachusetts: To help underserved communities during the pandemic, FRTA adopted several service innovations. The most significant innovation was launching a microtransit program, FRTA Access, providing same-day and next-day transportation to low-income riders throughout northwest Massachusetts via a smart phone app. FRTA expanded the FRTA Access program to provide weekend service, a first for the agency. In addition, FRTA developed a new sliding scale fare policy to promote equity and introduced an app-based customer feedback module.
Streamline in Bozeman, Montana: In April and May 2020, when communities in its service area were shut down due to pandemic stay-at-home orders, Streamline extended its hours of service to provide transportation to essential workers. Streamline also launched a major route redesign study to evaluate its services as the community’s population grew. The Redesign Streamline 2020 study, which was voted #1 Best Use of Taxpayer Dollars in Bozeman’s Choice Awards, recommended increased service coverage, weekend coverage and extended service hours. As a result of the study, Streamline has worked to improve transit access to work and health care centers, expanded weekend coverage, and provide zero-fare transportation options for people from areas of persistent poverty.
Southwest Area Regional Transit District in southwest Texas: Throughout the pandemic, even during stay-at-home orders, SWART remained in continuous operation, providing bus service and paratransit services to residents, ensuring access to jobs, school, health care and other needs. SWART maintained its routes while ensuring passenger safety by providing them with masks and automatic hand sanitizers on vehicles. Plexi-glass partitions were installed in the vehicles to protect vehicle operators, and SWART sanitized its vehicles before, during, and after each route. In addition, SWART waived fares from May through December 2020. Overall, SWART ensured its services were and continue to be accessible to everyone in the community, particularly older adults, veterans, people with disabilities, and people with serious medical conditions. Their ability to serve their customers came thanks to partnerships with health care organizations, chambers of commerce, schools, health and human service organizations, the Kickapoo Tribal Nation, and local businesses.
Bolivar County Council on Aging in Cleveland, Mississippi, which provides bus and non-emergency medical transportation services: When the pandemic began in March 2020, BCCOA immediately instituted safety procedures in all of its vehicles, including installing operator protective shields. To help communities in the Mississippi Delta region tackle the problem of food deserts, BCCOA partnered with Mississippi State University and the state’s Public Transit Division to start a rural micro-transit service designed to expand healthy food access. Supported with federal CARES Act funding, BCCOA customized their services to react to where the needs are greatest -- a model that can be replicated throughout the state. BCCOA also partnered with local elected officials, health centers and other community partners to provide fare-free transportation to COVID testing and vaccination events.