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This February 2020 issue of the MassMobility newsletter highlights news about transportation for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals in Massachusetts. Read on to learn about a project looking at rural transportation as a social determinant of health, outreach to language minority communities, efforts to address the transportation needs of youth and older adults, and more.

This month's issue features three stories related to travel training - assisting people in learning the skills and knowledge they need to ride fixed-route public transit independently and safely. Read on to learn about new videos explaining how to ride transit in the Merrimack Valley, low-tech videos customized for individual trainees in Springfield, and a partnership between transit and a transition classroom in Southeastern Mass. (Looking for travel training in your area? Check out our travel training webpage.)

If you like this newsletter, you'll love the conference! Join us April 8 for presentations on efforts to enhance mobility for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals. The Community Mobility track at MassDOT's Transportation Innovation Conference grew out of the Massachusetts Community Transportation Coordination Conference.

The newsletter is compiled by  MassMobility , an initiative of the  Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services .
Transportation conference features Community Mobility Track on April 8 - registration is open!
Join us April 8 for the Community Mobility Track at MassDOT's Transportation Innovation Conference. This track will offer sessions related to improving mobility and transportation options for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals in Massachusetts. The full conference takes place April 7-8, but all Community Mobility Track sessions are scheduled for April 8.

Visit the conference website to learn more about the mobility track or register. When finalized, the full conference agenda will be posted.  The conference has a registration fee; information about scholarship and fee waiver opportunities is available on the Mobility Track tab of the  conference website . Contact us if you have questions.

We hope you will join us!  This  conference  is a great opportunity to connect with transportation providers, human service agency staff, Councils on Aging, regional planners, advocates, and others around improving transportation options for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals in Massachusetts. In addition, the conference  also provides a forum for networking with municipal, state, and private roadway engineers about accessibility and mobility.
Apply for a grant
Applications are open for the AARP Community Challenge grant, an opportunity for a quick-term project to make a community more livable - such as installing benches near bus stops. Apply by April 1.

The federal Administration for Community Living is accepting applications for projects using volunteers to provide non-medical assistance to older adults and people with disabilities. Volunteer transportation programs are eligible. Apply by April 3.

Check out our funding for community transportation webpage for more opportunities.
Health foundation awards prestigious grant to rural transportation initiative
Recognizing transportation as a social determinant of health, The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts selected a rural transportation initiative to receive one of their four Round Five Synergy Initiative grants. In December, the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation (QVCDC) received a  $182,763 one-year planning grant to develop a replicable, sustainable model for rural transportation to improve health outcomes and influence health and transportation policy. If the planning phase is successful, QVCDC will be eligible to apply for a year of pilot funds and then up to three years of implementation funding through the Foundation's Synergy Initiative.
Three years ago, the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation (QVCDC), the Town of Ware, and other partners launched the Quaboag Connector to offer mobility to low-income individuals struggling to access jobs, education, health, and other services and opportunities. The Connector provides demand-response, public transit service to nine towns with little to no alternatives. Demand grew quickly, and currently hovers around 1000 rides per month - nearly outstripping capacity. Through the grant, QVCDC and its partners will use a Design Thinking approach to gather input from community stakeholders, center the rider experience at all stages of planning, and develop a model that can take the Connector to the next level while also serving as a model for other rural areas.
The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts typically awards Synergy Initiative grants once every five years, and works closely with grantees over the course of their projects to support them by attending working meetings and assisting with advocacy. One unique aspect of the Synergy Initiative is its empowerment evaluation approach that positions evaluators not as external judges but as partners who collaborate throughout the entire duration of the project, starting with proposal writing; before applicants submit their final application, the Foundation matches them with evaluators through a "speed-dating" process.
Regional planners gather input from language minorities
Concerted outreach to small immigrant and refugee communities led pedestrian, bicycle, and transit concerns to rise to the top five priorities in the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission's (CMRPC) Long Range Transportation Plan this year. While federal law requires planners to pay attention to language communities that make up at least five percent of a region's population or number at least 1000 individuals, CMRPC went above and beyond and also conducted outreach to language communities that made up at least one percent of a town's population or numbered at least 100 people. Planners connected with social service agencies serving the communities they wanted to reach to set up opportunities to gather feedback - including making presentations in English as a Second Language classrooms.
"Initially it took a little more work because these groups are not used to having transportation entities come and ask for their feedback, so it took some education and convincing," shares CMRPC Principal Transportation Planner Yahaira Graxirena. "But it's important. If you address the needs of the most vulnerable, you can make a larger impact for all users." Along with CMRPC Deputy Director Sujatha Krishnan, Graxirena presented a poster on this outreach at the national Transportation Research Board Conference in Washington DC in January.
New videos introduce riders to MVRTA buses
On February 6, Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) staff gathered at Haverhill Community Public Television with local Councils on Aging, disability service agencies, and other stakeholders to celebrate the launch of a series of videos . Five short videos introduce riders to bus etiquette, bus schedules, how to pay bus fare, tips for getting on and off the bus, and accessibility features. Posted on YouTube and linked from MVRTA's website , each video is available in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese, with narration provided by native speakers.
Prior to developing the videos, MVRTA convened focus groups of older adults, individuals with disabilities, area college students, Spanish speakers, Chinese speakers, and Vietnamese speakers. They asked participants to share what they found hard, confusing, or scary about riding the bus. They also showed them sample videos to get their feedback. In addition to three focus groups with riders, they also held one focus group with drivers - asking them what they wished passengers knew.
MVRTA took the findings from the focus groups and used them to develop the content for the videos. On advice from participants, they made sure the pace was not too rapid, and they made sure to show visually anything they explained verbally. In developing the script, they sought to sound welcoming and inviting to riders. Visually, they showcased the diversity of MVRTA's region, which stretches from downtown Lawrence to Salisbury Beach, and recruited volunteers who represent the diversity of MVRTA's ridership - "so that when you're watching the video, you'll see yourself represented," explains MVRTA Assistant Administrator Kathleen Lambert. "We want everyone to see that the bus is for them."
This project originated from an idea discussed a few years ago at the Merrimack Valley Regional Coordinating Council. The videos were funded by a grant from the Community Transit Grant Program.
Travel trainer shares skill with peers
Renee Lessard, Mobility Trainer at the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, demonstrated how she uses free and low-cost tools to make individualized videos for use in travel training at the February 4 meeting of the Massachusetts Travel Instruction Network. The network is an opportunity for anyone who offers travel training - or plans to start a program - to connect with peers and access ongoing professional development. Approximately ten travel trainers representing transit authorities, human service agencies, and school-based transition programs attended.
Lessard explained that some trainees have the skills they need to travel independently and safely after only a few sessions, but still want additional reassurance. She often makes visual aids like small booklets with photos following a trainee's route that the trainee can refer to during the ride, but had the idea to try personalized videos when working with a trainee with a propensity to lose things. Using free technology on her smartphone and computer and a low-cost microphone, Lessard recorded a video that shows the trainee's route, and recorded narration on top with key reminders. Lessard has also made videos for partner agencies, such as a homeless shelter that wanted a video to show guests how to take the bus to the local DTA office.
To learn how to make customized videos, check out Lessard's powerpoint. To join the email list for the Travel Instruction Network, contact us.
Middleborough transition students learn to ride the bus

Valerie Rufo, Special Education/Transition Teacher at Middleborough High School, worked this past fall with GATRA's travel trainer Patti Waitkevich to introduce three transitional postgraduate students to public transportation extending far beyond their hometown. In the rural town of Middleborough, transportation options are limited, so introducing public transportation opens new options. "Patti is an expert and a great resource when it comes to introducing travel training to beginners. This allows students that have basic knowledge to explore opportunities within public transportation," Rufo explains. Waitkevich uses a curriculum based on materials from Easter Seals Project Action, but customizes her approach to each community and each student.
Waitkevich typically begins with in-classroom instructional sessions and a short, local bus ride. More advanced trainees, such as the three Middleborough students, get the opportunity to plan their own itineraries. The students set goals for themselves including learning to access social, work and volunteer opportunities, as well as developing independence, communication, reading schedules, time management and budgeting skills - and they learned a lot. "The transportation trips were awesome, and I learned a lot from them," said one student. "I enjoy being out in the community learning instead of in school," shared another.
There is no better way to learn how to use public transportation than to fully participate. These students experienced new challenges on each bus trip, and were excited to learn that for a student fare of $2.00 per day, they were able to travel to Wareham and Plymouth! "Glad I could be of service," Waitkevich commented. "There is no better satisfaction than helping these young adults work towards further independence and opening new doors in the community."
Watertown joins MBTA Youth Pass Program

In order to improve mobility for the town's low-income young folks, Watertown  joined  the MBTA's Youth Pass program in January. The Youth Pass allows eligible individuals ages 12 through 25 to purchase a monthly pass for all local bus and subway lines at the reduced rate of $30, as well as half-priced single-ride fares. The program offers an affordable option for young adults who rely on public transportation to access education, employment, and more across the MBTA service area.  "What a great way to support young people just getting launched in life, while also supporting transit, which reduces congestion and improves air quality," shares Watertown Senior Transportation Planner Laura Wiener.

The MBTA offers the Youth Pass in partnership with participating cities or towns. In addition to Watertown, participating communities include Arlington, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lexington, Malden, Medford, Quincy, Revere, and Somerville, as well as 19 North Shore communities. Residents of these communities apply through a community partner, such as the Wayside Youth & Family Support Network for Watertown Other municipalities interested in participating should contact the Youth Pass program to learn how.
Stakeholders discuss age-friendly transportation in Lawrence and Acton
In January, forums in Lawrence and Acton highlighted the importance of age-friendly transportation to older adults' quality of life. On January 10, the Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) hosted a legislative breakfast at the Lawrence Senior Center, in partnership with local and statewide organizations and with funding from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. After welcoming remarks from the City of Lawrence Mayor's Health Task Force and the Senior Center, the audience heard from a panel representing local transportation providers - the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, Northern Essex Elder Transport, and Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley - as well as a 91-year-old rider who shared her experiences using public transit and other services. Well over 100 people attended, including many older adults and legislators.
On January 29, stakeholders gathered in Acton for an Age-Friendly Forum focused on housing and transportation. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) released a draft of the recommendations they are developing for their Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC) subregion. After a panel highlighting recent housing and transportation initiatives in the region, attendees broke into small groups to provide input on the recommendations. Meeting materials are available online, and MAPC is finalizing the recommendations.
State awards funding for complete streets and workforce transportation
On January 28, the Baker-Polito Administration and MassDOT announced grant awards totaling $8.1 million to 24 municipalities in support of Complete Streets projects. Complete streets  provide safe and accessible options for all travel modes and for people of all ages and abilities. Grants will support construction of new bus shelters in Weymouth, pedestrian and sidewalk improvements in Fitchburg, and wheelchair ramps in Sunderland, among other projects.

On February 10, they announced the projects selected for $4.2 million in funding through MassDOT's workforce transportation grant program, a new competitive opportunity that opened for the first time last year. Grants will support microtransit pilots, employee shuttles, and Transportation Management Associations, among other projects.
Job postings
PVTA is hiring a part-time Mobility Trainer.

The communities of Acton, Bolton, Carlisle, Stow, and Sudbury are seeking Program Manager consultant services for a microtransit pilot that will explore improving transportation services for seniors, people with disabilities, financially vulnerable residents, and veterans. This position is open until filled.
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