Southwest Minnesota Regional Transportation Coordinating Council
Year One Final Report
The coordination of transportation services has long been held as the best way to increase available options without increasing resources. In 2018, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) began exploring the creation of Regional Transportation Coordinating Councils (RTCC). Information on the vision for RTCCs can be found on CoordinateMNTransit.org.
United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) is a Community Action agency dedicated to helping people meet their basic needs. It hosts an eight-county public transit program as well as several other transportation programs that are geared toward meeting more of the transportation needs of all people throughout our region. RTCCs are the perfect extension of the long-held value in UCAP’s transportation department that when more transportation needs are met everybody benefits, no matter what transportation service is used.
UCAP responded to a grant opportunity to begin the planning phase of a RTCC in Southwest Minnesota. The application was successful, and planning funds were awarded beginning July 1, 2019 and extending to June 30, 2020. This report outlines the final outcomes of planning and the first steps for moving into implementation (PDF version).
The grant year began with the search for a consultant to guide UCAP staff through the planning process and assist with the creation of required grant outcomes. A consultant was hired, and the Southwest Minnesota Regional Transportation Coordinating Council planning committee held its first meeting on November 6, 2019.
Meetings began by focusing on what resources and strengths the region has, what it needs, how an RTCC can help, and who needs to be involved. Throughout the first year, the planning committee identified:
- Council service area
- Council membership
- Organizational structure
- Council bylaws
- Public engagement strategies
- A two-year operational implementation plan
Council Coverage Area
The RTCC planning committee decided the Council should serve nine counties in Southwest Minnesota: Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone Redwood and Rock.
There are already many partnerships within these counties. So, the stakeholders believe the large service area is appropriate. Stakeholders also noted that establishing the nine-county region is good, but it is also important to include other counties as may be necessary or beneficial for advancing to goals of the Council in the future.
Southwest Minnesota RTCC planning meetings included participation from the following:
- Public, private and emergency transportation providers
- County commissioners and city administrators
- Disability service providers
- Human Service agencies
- Aging service providers
- Veterans service providers
- Managed care providers
The planning committee discussed what organizations need to be involved in the formal Council. It was agreed that those involved in the planning also need to be part of the Council. However, a gap exists in two general areas. Recruitment prior to the first organizational meeting must include a special focus on these gap areas:
- Economic development or private industry
UCAP and the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) were both involved in the planning committee. Through these agencies, the entire nine-county RTCC area is served. Since both agencies also host public transit, and both have county commissioners on their Boards, the planning committee felt that each agency should be asked to appoint someone to the Council representing their counties of service.
The planning committee determined that the RTCC would consist of thirteen members. They felt a larger group would become too cumbersome to be effective. Advisory groups were added to the RTCC structure to ensure that the RTCC is properly supported when addressing a need, and all necessary voices hold positions of influence. Advisory groups will be comprised of RTCC members and others in four interest areas:
- Service providers
- Communication and outreach
- Transportation providers
The work of bringing formal RTCC membership and advisory groups together will be done by planning committee members with the support of one UCAP’s Mobility Administrator, hired to lead the RTCC efforts.
Many different organizational structures were considered, including a Joint Powers Board and various types of stand-alone, non-profit structures. The planning committee did not feel that creating a new non-profit organization was the right step. They also did not think the region would support a Joint Powers structure.
These options were set aside:
- First, because creating a governmental organization limits potential reach since members of a Joint Powers Board can only be pulled from units of government.
- Second, because there are already many committees and Boards that elected officials and organizational leaders are obligated to be a part of. In our rural area, this means that people can be stretched thin. Creating another entity would likely mean that they would be spread even thinner, and potentially, less committed to RTCC success.
- Third, because the funding streams available to governmental entities are limited.
Therefore, committee members favored to look, instead, at using an established non-profit organization to host the RTCC.
UCAP has been working on building relationships and partnerships with all area transportation and service providers for many years. Because the agency hosts a public transit system, they have established connections with county commissioners and service providers who serve on their Transit Advisory Committees (TAC) in many counties. Planning committee members agreed that finding a way to fit the RTCC under UCAP was the best solution. Using the existing TACs as a starting point for the RTCC is one potential way to allow many important players to help with the work of the RTCC without adding another meeting to everyone’s calendar.
Considering the approach thoroughly, and working directly with the UCAP Board, it was decided that the best way to move forward with the creation of the Southwest Minnesota RTCC was as an ad hoc committee of the UCAP Board. It closely resembles other ad hoc committees the UCAP Board already hosts, and therefore does not require any lengthy considerations or legal changes before gaining Board approval. Bylaws were created for the RTCC to reflect this structure. Review the bylaws and an organizational chart.
Planning committee members and UCAP staff moved confidently in this direction as a first step, knowing that future growth may require changes to the organizational structure. They are ready and willing to tackle those when it becomes necessary.
Throughout the year of planning, discussions frequently centered around the region’s biggest transportation needs. This helped guide ideas about how the RTCC should function, and what tasks it could take on now and in the future. The top needs that surfaced are:
- Transportation after normal transit hours
- Transportation across provider lines/long-distance transportation
- Volunteer and hired drivers
- Affordability of transportation
- Ability to easily create partnerships between providers
The projects or functions, ranging from small to very big, that came forward included:
- Be the hub for collection of obstacles
- Brainstorm ideas for solutions
- Present to appropriate agency/regulatory body for legislative changes
- Collaborate with counties and agencies to have one-person support all of them in grant writing
- Centralize the responsibility of vehicle maintenance and driver training
- Negotiate region-wide rates with agencies providing funding
- Be a policy body that consists of public, private, and non-profit transportation providers in order to facilitate a seamless system of transportation services
- Be a conduit allowing more providers to have access to more funds
- Facilitate the resolution of issues and barriers to the provision of transportation on rides in Southwest Minnesota
- Create a website of providers for a central dispatch to provide consistency of service
- Coordinate all transportation
- Plan for unmet needs and how to meet those needs
- Spread understanding of what is available and measure what is not
Operational Implementation Plan
The committee took all of the ideas about form and function and began to identify the best approach to the first two years of RTCC implementation. The Southwest Minnesota RTCC Operational Implementation Plan was developed by taking the projects and functions suggested by the planning committee and considering them alongside the current direction from the State. MNDOT identified three emphasis areas for RTCCs to pursue.
- Transportation Management Coordination Centers (TMCC)
- Volunteer driver program committees
- Vehicle sharing
In addition to MNDOT’s emphasis areas, the update of the Region 8 Local Human Service Public Transit Coordination Plan will be necessary in 2021. The RTCC will be an integral part of that update. So, the planning committee also had to take that into account when developing a two-year plan.
The projects for the first two years of implementation were chosen because they are necessary steps to make the RTCC a reality, they meet a goal or priority brought forth by the planning committee, they help fulfill a priority in the Plan or an RTCC statewide emphasis area or, at times, they advance multiple goals. They include:
- Gather the formal council membership
- Create and maintain a searchable region-wide database of transportation options
- Create and carry out comprehensive multi-provider travel training
- Make connection with regional interpreter services
- Convene the Service Providers Advisory Group
- Identify a pilot project to enhance vehicle sharing, and take the steps to get it off the ground
- Work on the 2021 Region 8 Local Human Service Public Transit Coordination Plan, which will be completed in 2022
Further details on any project can be found in the Operational Implementation Plan.
The most crucial step in every project is the first step. For the Southwest Minnesota RTCC, that means finding the right people to serve as members of the RTCC or advisory groups. Outreach through the planning committee members has begun. Read the complete strategies for communication and outreach.
The Southwest RTCC organizational meeting is targeted for September 2020.
The Southwest RTCC needs people committed to advancing transportation in southwest Minnesota to serve on the Council or an advisory group.
Since finances are often the thing that prevents projects from getting started. RTCC members must have some understanding of how funding flows to, and through, the entity or group they represent.
Advisory members must understand the issues related to transportation and transportation coordination that affect the people they represent.
Both RTCC members and advisory groups are the listening ears to the public and the voice of the RTCC. The people who will fill these positions must be dedicated to improving transportation throughout Southwest Minnesota, understanding that the barriers are often big, and progress may be slow. Unconventional thinkers are welcome!
If you know anyone who can help in these efforts, please share this information with them. If you might be interested in becoming a part of Southwest Minnesota’s transportation future, contact the Southwest RTCC lead staff, Shelly Pflaum: 507-537-3861 or email@example.com.