A three-day conference focused on transit accessibility issues came to a close on Thursday after participants examined new ways to address challenges faced by less mobile Utahns.
The event, organized by the Utah Transit Authority, brought more than 60 stakeholders from government, human services, transportation activist organizations and disabled riders advocacy groups to discuss their quest to provide "community transportation for all."
UTA general manager John Inglish said the conference was patterned after previous UTA-sponsored, issue-focused gatherings using a "future search" model that his agency has found successful.
"Out of this will come ... not a solution, but a group of people with an understanding of the issues, and what they can do to address those issues," Inglish said. "They will leave here with a commitment to do that."
Bengt Lindstrom, a co-owner of the Swedish consulting group Ander & Lindstrom and a specialist in the "future search" conference technique, was in attendance as an organizer. He said part of the challenge of creating a productive gathering was getting the right people together.
"The scope of the (accessibility) problem is too big to be covered by a single conference," Lindstrom said. "To be effective, you need to have the right people in the room."
To this end, participants were chosen by a steering committee, whom Inglish said sought voices from as many areas concerned with accessibility as they could think of.
"This is not a public hearing," Inglish said. "It's a very structured process that involves activists, community leaders, state agencies ... people who are in a position to do things to enact change."
One of those issues is handling the needs of transit-dependent people who reside outside of the transit-heavy urban core of Salt Lake City.
Inglish noted that UTA has a federal obligation to meet the needs of disabled riders and its programs meet and go beyond those requisites. Still, the booming population growth in the state has provided constant transit challenges and areas that are underserved, particularly for those with special needs.
"We're getting into a situation now with sprawl that gaps are being created where UTA doesn't have specific assigned responsibility," Inglish said. "A good example of this is transportation for the disabled in rural areas."
One approach is coordinating efforts between public and private agencies through a program, sponsored by the Utah Department of Transportation, currently being tried in the Uinta Basin. The program organizes small-scale transportation services, many of which use smaller vehicles like a 15-passenger van that can accomodate wheelchair passengers, into a transportation network.
C. Ross Peterson, a public transportation specialist for H.W. Lochner Inc., which is participating in the program, said that they are using GPS units in each vehicle to help dispatchers coordinate the various transportation options.
"People can call one number for a ride ... instead of the six or so they are currently calling," he said.
The vehicle locator unit, and communication with existing transit, would allow a central controller to coordinate rides on agency vehicles or direct callers to public transit. In addition to adding a new level of service for challenged riders, agencies can make better use of their vehicles, which Peterson said sit idle for the most part.
"We're not taking resources away from anyone," Peterson said. "We're creating efficiencies that they benefit from."
Peterson added that agencies could also realize a new revenue stream through selling the empty seats they're not using.
Other areas flagged by conference participants included the role of developers in transportation planning, and coordinating stakeholder interests to address evolving transportation challenges.
UTA organization consultant Drusilla Copeland said the discoveries of participants would be addressed by "action-planning teams."
"The action-planning teams will take the next steps," Copeland said. "Their work will lead to implementation of ideas generated by this gathering."