If you’re not a regular transit user, finding your way to a job or doctor’s appointment by bus or rail can be a daunting task. For older people or those with disabilities, it can be an even greater challenge.
Transportation Management Associations (TMA) are trying to help. They offer a variety of travel training programs to help people get around by public transportation, providing a sense of freedom by enabling them to them to travel without relying on others.
Donna Allison, executive director of RideWise
, described the travel training programs at the Aug. 14 RTAC meeting, including those offered by Cross County Connection, goHunterdon, Greater Mercer TMA, and My TMA/RideWise.
Travel training, provided to small groups or individuals, often includes field trips to teach participants how to travel safely and independently. In addition to serving older adults, people with disabilities and special needs students, the programs train social service staff who may want to learn about the buses and trains in the area so they can help their clients.“We’re connecting people to jobs, classes at local colleges, recreation and social opportunities, and essential appointments and services," Allison said.
Sometimes the barrier is not the availability of transportation but knowing how to find it and use it, according to Allison. Individuals have to know how to plan their trip, where it stops, how to pay the fare. “Not all of this information is centralized, most is limited online, which not everyone can access,” she said.
In 2022, a pilot program trained 120 students at Camden County High School’s transitional program. Students in the high school have autism spectrum disorder and receive customized training to meet their individual needs, “which is the hallmark of travel training for each TMA,” Allison said.
The transportation coaching program at goHunterdon
assists individuals in small groups with using Hunterdon County’s LINK bus system. It also has worked with Hunterdon Regional Central High School’s special education individual community living program to coach students and is currently working with five regional high schools to develop a program for the new school year.
The Greater Mercer TMA
training program for transitioning high school students recently took students from Steinert High School on a bus trip along Route 130 on to a retail area with a movie theater. A few weeks later, students traveled on their own to see a movie. Allison said. “Not only did students learn about independence but also about financial savings by taking transit for only a dollar fare.”
and its partners trained 436 individuals through a series of in-class sessions and field trips in the last fiscal year. This past spring, they combined travel training with job skills preparation. Partnering with a local restaurant, they took students to a restaurant via public transit where they learned how to take orders, make change, and serve guests. The program will expand thanks to a grant from NJ TRANSIT.
Other TMAs, including Avenues in Motion, EZ Ride and Hudson TMA, don’t currently have formal travel training programs but provide trip planning. Keep Middlesex Moving outsources training to the New Jersey Travel Independent Program
(NJ TIP) at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center. “It’s a very labor-intensive program so the larger the service area, the harder it probably is to implement because it requires a lot of staff time,” Allison said.
As she presented photos of two excited participants at the end of their recent trips – one who was taught how to use Uber rideshare to get around and another who took part in travel training to get to a volunteer opportunity at local hospital – Allison said: “This is really what travel training is all about: the freedom and the ability to get where you want to go without having to rely on someone else.”