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What is Coordination?


 
Coordination—a strategy for managing resources—is a powerful tool for doing more with the resources you now have. Fundamentally, coordination is about sharing power among organizations that are working together to achieve common goals. Coordination means sharing all the key components of power—responsibility, management, and funding.

Coordination often means working with people who are not used to working together. This typically requires crossing over long-standing barriers and boundaries: different political jurisdictions, agency responsibilities, professional interests, and modes of transportation all need to be bridged. Issues of differing objectives, interests, jurisdictions, regulations, funding sources, and even vocabularies need to be overcome in order for joint activities to proceed. A key first step is to clearly define and communicate what is meant by coordinated transportation. It’s then necessary to find the combination of resources and stakeholders that uniquely addresses key transportation issues in each community. Coordination’s results—often beneficial—can include the blending of travel purposes, client types, travel modes, funding sources, vehicle types, and the needs of different political jurisdictions.

Coordination of transportation systems is thus a process in which two or more organizations interact to jointly accomplish their transportation objectives. A broad perspective is a key element: effective coordination requires a focus on the entire community, or maybe even on multiple communities.

Who Needs to be Involved in Coordinated Transportation?

Rural communities may have many public and private agencies and organizations that provide or purchase transportation services. Agencies and their representatives that need to be included in any transportation planning process include the following:

  • Public, private, and agency transportation providers;
  • Departments of human and social services;
  • Departments of health and mental health;
  • Area agencies on aging;
  • Vocational and/or developmental disabilities departments;
  • Departments of employment;
  • Departments of education;
  • Local business representatives; and
  • Private nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross, the United Way, and faith-based organizations.

Goals for Coordinated Transportation

Community-specific goals guide transportation decisions; setting specific goals is thus a crucial step in the coordination process. Coordination can support the following kinds of goals:

  • Doing more with limited resources; this includes reducing the costs of providing trips and increasing the trips per hour of transportation services.
  • Enhancing mobility within the local community and among communities.
  • Generating new revenues for transportation services.
  • Preserving individual independence.
  • Enhancing the quality of life.

How Coordination Works

The goals of coordinated transportation systems are to increase the numbers of people served and the numbers of rides provided. Coordination achieves these goals through better resource management.

To achieve greater efficiencies, the community needs to focus on reducing duplication and fragmentation in operating, administering, planning, and funding transportation services. Useful strategies include:

  • Reducing operating and administrative salaries.
  • Reducing capital costs on vehicles and other equipment.
  • Reducing other operating costs, such as maintenance and insurance.

To achieve more productive transportation services, the community should focus on improving the accessibility, affordability, and availability of transportation services. Useful strategies include:

  • Increasing days and hours of service.
  • Increasing service areas.
  • Increasing the kinds of persons and trip purposes served.
  • Increasing the accessibility of vehicles in the fleet for persons with special needs.
  • Increasing passenger assistance and customer service training for drivers and dispatchers.
  • Increasing public information concerning services.
  • Increasing funding to help pay the costs of specific trips.

Coordination’s Benefits

The specific benefits that are achieved in a given community depend strongly on local conditions, including the resources and activities of the transportation providers and other key stakeholders, as well as local political considerations. Nevertheless, within the vast majority of rural communities, the greatest benefits of coordination are

  • Increased transportation funding,
  • Increased trip cost efficiencies for programs and providers,
  • Expanded travel, and
  • Service quality improvements.

Rural public transportation services have demonstrated benefit/cost ratios of greater than three to one,meaning that personal transportation services are a good investment for rural communities. The most coordinated and comprehensive rural transportation systems generate substantial benefits for riders, the local economy, and the entire community. Additional benefits are the wages paid to transit employees, the costs of goods and services the transit system purchases locally, and the effects of wages and system purchases in the local economy.
Each rural community can make its own choices about how to apply coordination’s benefits. If there are cost savings on a unit cost basis —that is, cost per trip, per mile, or per hour—the savings from these greater efficiencies can be used to serve more passengers. This is the approach used by the vast majority of communities simply because more transportation service is needed in most communities. Thus, transportation service can be expanded to previously unserved portions of the community, to previously unserved population groups, or to previously unserved hours and days. Other communities have elected to offer the same level of transportation services at a lower total expense.

Coordination’s Challenges

Understand and explain the pros and cons of coordination— don’t let potential partners develop unrealistic expectations. Coordination efforts need both a champion and a sparkplug for success. Coordination may initially be more expensive, more difficult, and more time-consuming than most interested stakeholders expect. Coordination may increase cost-effectiveness and reduce costs per trip, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any agency will be getting money returned to them. Constant effort will be needed to ensure that all partners continue to participate and coordinate over the years. While there are no true prohibitions or barriers to coordination, there certainly are some obstacles and challenges. Be prepared to address real issues concerning funding, personal relationships, political support and power sharing, and a lack of knowledge or misperceptions about coordination.
 

Adapted from Transit Cooperative Research Program


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