For most of us in Pinellas County, we don’t have to think about how we get to the doctor or grocery store: it just involves our cars and the best roads to get us where we want to go. But what about people who don’t own a car? Or those who can’t drive? Accessibility to basic necessities is something we need to consider not only for ourselves, but for our parents, grandparents and others in our community.
In Pinellas County, according to the state Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, almost 15 percent of the population lives in poverty, nearly a quarter of the population is 65 and older and about 15 percent are people with disabilities. The Pinellas County Transportation Disadvantaged (TD) Program is focused on serving low-income residents whose income is below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. These residents are not able to get a ride from household members or others for life-sustaining trips – for example, to medical services, the grocery store or work.
Forward Pinellas works with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to oversee and implement the TD Program. As the TD Program’s planning agency, Forward Pinellas supports the Local Coordinating Board that oversees the program and collaborates with our partners in the region to explore how we can meet the needs of the transportation disadvantaged across county lines.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”16″ bg_color=”#20d37e” txt_color=”#ffffff”]Forward Pinellas works with PSTA to develop the Transportation Disadvantaged Service Plan, or TDSP. This service plan guides the TD Program. It provides information on Pinellas County, including transportation disadvantaged needs; the program’s goals, objectives, strategies and measures of effectiveness; service guidelines; and quality assurance guidelines. A new TDSP is developed every five years.
We are currently putting together our TDSP for the next five years and invite you to participate in that process by taking a survey on the TD Program. This survey will help us understand familiarity with the TD Program, how the program is meeting the needs of the TD community and potential improvements we can make to the program. Your input will help us make sure that we continue to plan for the needs of our entire community. [/mks_pullquote]
Throughout Florida, counties have transportation disadvantaged programs that provide transportation services to those who are unable to transport themselves. These programs take different shapes depending on where they are in the state. PSTA coordinates the transportation services provided through the Pinellas County TD Program. These include providing reduced cost monthly and 10-day bus passes, door-to-door trips for those physically unable to ride the bus, and group trips provided by non-profit agencies. About 6,000 monthly bus passes are issued each month as part of the TD Program, and an additional 12,000 trips are provided each month through the door-to-door and agency trips.
Another component of the TD Program is TD Late Shift. TD Program participants are able to receive up to 23 free on-demand trips either to or from work, if they have a job that begins or ends between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Trips are provided through Uber, United Taxi or Care Ride.
As part of integrating land use and transportation planning, Forward Pinellas focuses on accessibility, which includes how we meet the transportation needs of everyone in our community regardless of their means, age or ability. This includes those who may be transportation disadvantaged due to age, such as children and the elderly, as well as persons with disabilities and those with low incomes. In an AARP survey, 78% of people indicated they want to age in the community where they have lived and developed relationships.
Meeting community accessibility needs includes planning for people who may not currently drive, or those who may not be able to drive in the future. As people continue to want to age in place, we need to be planning for how to accommodate all users of our transportation systems. This is an important consideration for accessibility – how to create, access and maintain local services that help provide a sense of place and community. Ensuring that we think of all potential users is an important piece of Forward Pinellas’s mission.
The application for receiving a CareRide (discounted ride $5.00 each way) needs to be greatly improved. I was denied initially and went through a three-month process to be approved. Initially, PSTA and TD (Ross Silvers) was requesting I appeal and go in front of a board and share my personal health information. The entire process was overly broad and overly burdensome. I feel many are being denied as they either give up or don’t have the resources or energy to “fight”. I finally have approval through August 2019. No one whom is disabled should have to go through this demeaning process. If the money is there to provide the rides and the applicants are physically disabled and received SSDI, one should not have to “prove it” again by answering the “trick” questions on an application and having their doctor provide the “right” information.