Eastern Iowa roundtable wants transportation for all

BY JOE HITCHON | JULY 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Eastern Iowa officials say cities must make every effort possible to ensure that citizens have transportation available to them in order to get from point A to point B.

Representatives from several eastern Iowa workforce agencies and transit providers met on Wednesday for a discussion and strategic planning session aimed at finding ways to enhance partnerships in order to increase transportation options for Iowans.

Angie O’Brien, the statewide mobility manager for the Regional Councils, said the ultimate goal of the initiative is to ensure that there is a mobility coordinator in each local area that can help with any transit issues or barriers that someone might have.

“The dispatchers at transit agencies are extremely busy, and they don’t always have the time to give one-on-one assistance with people. We would like there to be a local mobility coordinator that people can go to and find out about the transit options for that area,” she said.  “It’s not just public transit, either — it might be volunteer transportation, private, or whatever a person might need. There are also funding options available to help people as well.”

Hosted by the Iowa Association of Regional Councils and East Central Iowa Council of Governments, the roundtable discussion was held at the Johnson County SEATS of Iowa City and marked the fourth-such meeting held in different regions throughout the state of Iowa.

The participants gathered to discuss strategies for addressing the transit-related issues facing workforce agencies in the east-central Iowa region in the hopes of turning the ideas into concrete solutions.

“The goal of these meetings is to basically get people around the table — economic developers, employers, workforce development professionals, and transit providers, and really just encourage collaboration and form new opportunities for partnership between development groups and transit,” said Nicole Warren, the executive sirector of the Regional Councils.

The discussion focused on a transit issues facing the attendees in their respective fields, along with an analysis of the regional transit structure that identified its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for its improvement.

“I thought that it was a very good discussion. It identified some regional issues, and it was a good starting point,” Warren said. “Our next step will be to come up with strategies for addressing some of the barriers in the region.”

The attendees identified their common goals for the initiative as improving awareness of individual mobility needs, providing better information, and transit assistance to job seekers, expand both public and private transportation options to meet work transit needs, as well as explore more opportunities for funding.

The group also hopes to improve transportation options for individuals with special needs such as the elderly, the disabled, unemployed, and even those in work-release programs.

“I think the issues effecting us are the same as many of the transit systems in this region of the state. 

Whether its low funding levels or capital replacements on aging vehicles,” said Vicky Rebrock, the director of Coralville Transit. “Anytime you have the opportunity to work with various partners, private business, or other agencies, it is very helpful. From the perspective of a transit provider it was a great opportunity for us to see which groups we may not be reaching effectively, how we can improve on public awareness and opportunities for partnerships.”

Officials recognize that these roundtable discussions are only the first step.

“It is certainly not the end all and of course we can’t identify and solve every issue today, but it serves as a starting point,” Warren said.

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