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In large states with relatively low populations, like Nebraska, getting people who do not have access to a car from A to B can be very challenging. Morgan D. Vogel and Robert Blair look at the role of mobility management programs in connecting people with different transport needs across large distances. They write that public-private partnerships can be an important part of these programs, as can collaboration between transit agencies across state counties.

Throughout the United States, there is increasing pressure for communities, especially in states like Nebraska, to develop and maintain sustainable transportation infrastructure initiatives in order secure economic and social prosperity for the future. Many of these transportation initiatives include mobility management – a strategic, efficient approach to transportation service coordination and transit options in order to make transport better for members of the public.

When transit providers implement mobility management networks they move from their more established traditional roles as fixed route or demand response providers in order to collaborate with other transit providers and community partners. Through regional partnerships among public, nonprofit, and private entities, mobility management initiatives improve efficiency, promote sustainable and long-term economic growth, and enhance equitable transportation options for vulnerable populations by connecting small urban and rural areas with significantly dispersed populations to regional cores. This is exactly what’s happening in Nebraska.

The state of Nebraska has a population of less than two million people with the vast majority of the population concentrated in the major metropolitan areas in the eastern part of the state, while population is widely dispersed among communities in the western part of the state. Currently, there are 58 rural public transportation providers coordinating public transit in 84 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Public transit is provided by demand response in all but three cities where there are no fixed or regular routes.

Much of the need for public transportation results from the lack of a vehicle in households. According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 5.7 percent of all Nebraskan households and 9.9 percent of households with a householder aged 65 or older lacked a vehicle in the 2012-2016 period. Additionally, the American Community Survey reports that 8.8 percent of the state’s unemployed did not have access to a vehicle. By providing access to services and employment opportunities for these and other marginalized populations, mobility management initiatives strengthen the social equity and community capital of nonmetropolitan communities, improving the likelihood of economic viability and long-term sustainability for the region.

A public-private partnership that enhances travel options

In order to address public transit service gaps throughout Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Transportation (DOT) formed a partnership called Advance with the Nebraska Safety Center (NSC) at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the Center for Public Affairs Research (CPAR) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. This partnership allows the Nebraska DOT to bring in experts in content areas, add resources, learn about best practices, and benefit from the latest technology. The Nebraska DOT also integrated private organizations, along with its University partners, to create a public-private partnership that enhances travel options across the state through the Statewide Mobility Management Project.

The goal of this project is to establish statewide mobility management strategies to address mobility needs and identify service gaps. In order to create more manageable transit plans (and ensure local control), the Mobility Management Project identified six mobility management areas with each region, creating comprehensive transit plans to coordinate services and identify strategies to expand public transit options for residents in the area. The plans vary from region to region, reflecting the geography of the area and addressing mobility needs and gaps in light of the existing public transit services. The regional strategies will discover ways to improve transit efficiency, leverage existing services, identify service expansion opportunities, increase ridership, and address other transit issues in the region.

Nebraska” by jacdupree is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0

Working with NDOT and Advance staff, coordinating committees in each region will develop area-specific transit plans. The coordinating committees are composed of public, nonprofit and private transit service providers, social service agencies, local governments, and other public transportation stakeholders. A mobility manager for the state will coordinate transit services and implement strategies included in each region’s plans.

An understanding of the movement of people from place to place forms the foundation for regional transit plans and strategies. Trips meet a multitude of transportation objectives, especially in nonmetropolitan areas, including: transporting workers to places of employment, transporting people to medical facilities for appointments, transporting shoppers to retail establishments, and connecting consumers to a range of personal services.

Similarly, destinations vary widely. Unlike most densely populated urban areas, the places that people need to get to in nonmetropolitan communities are often far away. These destinations included: moving people within nonmetropolitan locations, from rural to micropolitan (urban areas with a population between 10,000 to 50,000) areas, and from nonmetropolitan to metropolitan locations.

The importance of regional collaboration

In particular, many trip destinations often cross county and other governmental boundaries. This is significant since most transit agencies operate only within one county. Therefore, in order to transport people across county lines, there must be some form of collaboration among the various governmental units. According to Nebraska Public Transit, here are three examples of how this regional collaboration has occurred in Nebraska.

  • One example is with the Tri-City Road Runner transit service in the Panhandle Region of the state, involving a fixed-route bus service in the Scottsbluff-Gering area. Gap analysis identified the need for two deviated fixed routes operating north and south within Scottsbluff, Gering, and Terrytown to provide connections throughout the community in order to serve routes that include grocery stores, higher density residential areas, major employment areas, medical facilities, and other activity centers. The collaborative structure employed in this transit strategy involved the creation of a multi-city and county-based transportation agency, requiring the participation of two moderately-sized neighboring municipalities and a county government.
  • A second example is the transit strategy designed for residents of McPherson County. This original service ran between Hooker County to North Platte, which traveled through but did not stop in McPherson County. This coordination strategy improves the mobility of McPherson County residents who previously did not have public transit route available to them and leverages existing transit services. The Hooker County Public Transportation leveraged and expanded their services in an informal manner to transport McPherson County residents to another county to access needed services.
  • A final example is the Tecumseh to Auburn transit service. Stakeholder meetings were conducted in order to initiate communication between Johnson County Transit in Tecumseh and Blue Rivers Area Agency on Aging (BRAAA) for potential regional trip coordination. BRAAA started a demand response Tecumseh-to-Auburn transit route for residents of Tecumseh, which improves mobility for Tecumseh residents and increases economic activity in Auburn.

An increasing issue for transportation professionals is how to engage in sustainable transportation infrastructure development in order to promote long-term economic growth for states with significantly dispersed and rural population centers. In Midwestern states like Nebraska, many of these sustainable transportation initiatives include mobility management programs, developed and implemented from a regional and collaborative perspective. This suggests that there is no one size fits all approach to mobility management. Rather, a regional approach to mobility management allows for mobility managers and stakeholders to draw on community assets and existing relationships in order to tailor mobility management initiatives to fit the needs of each region. In the long term, regional collaboration is the key to developing efficient, cost effective, and equitable mobility management programs, especially in dispersed and rural population areas.

Acknowledgement

Research reported in this publication is part of a Statewide Transit Initiative conducted by the University of Nebraska on behalf of the Nebraska Department of Transportation [Project RPT-C990(017)] supported in part by the Federal Transit Administration [PTE Federal Award PL1601 Subaward 17-002-01]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official view of the Federal Transit Administration.

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Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USAPP– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.  

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About the authors

Robert BlairUniversity of Nebraska at Omaha
Robert Blair is a Professor of Public Administration and Urban Studies in the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Professor Blair works closely with Nebraska city managers and administrators, and the International City County Management Association on educational, applied research, and professional development issues, and has provided technical assistance to many communities and public agencies over the years.

Morgan VogelUniversity of Nebraska at Omaha
Morgan Vogel is a second-year doctoral student in the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her primary research interest is the motivations and ethics of public and nonprofit practitioners.

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