By Taylor Klocke

CTAA Member HIRTA Awarded U.S. DOT Grant to Improve Transportation Mobility

January 19, 2021

U.S. DOT awards HIRTA nearly $1.1 million to improve transportation mobility. Program Awarded: Complete Trip – ITS4US Deployment Program.

Earlier this year, the Heart of Iowa Regional Transportation Agency (HIRTA) was awarded $1,084,257 in part of its Complete Trip – ITS4US Deployment Program. CTAA’s Taylor Klocke spoke with HIRTA’s Executive Director Julia Castillo about the program and its importance for her community.

Klocke: Please briefly describe the Complete Trip – ITS4US Deployment Program.

Castillo: The goal is to provide enhanced access to healthcare options for “all travelers” in Dallas County (Iowa) with a specific focus on underserved communities, including persons with disabilities, low income, rural, older adults, veterans, and persons with limited English proficiency. The project will include a unified application to provide a true origin to destination wayfinding, transportation, and healthcare experience for all people. In addition to addressing mobility needs, the proposed deployment will recognize the net impact that access to health services have on patient health care outcomes as well as both the financial and health outcomes from the perspective of the health care community/Dallas County Health Department (DCHD).

This project was required to be replicable once complete, and a key driver of replicability and scalability of this solution will be reliance on open data standards, where available, when interfacing between proprietary or off-the-shelf systems. We plan to utilize current open data standards and explore new data standards to support this solution deployment so that we may eventually implement this into our entire 7-county region.

Klocke: Who are your partners and how did that conversation begin?

Castillo: It started out with a simple conversation with our software vendor, on a completely different topic, and quickly morphed into a team of people having a discussion about an idea, which lead to HIRTA applying (with tremendous assistance from the team) for this Grant. Those in the original discussions included, RouteMatch by Uber, IBI Group, CTAA, Iowa DOT, Public Transit Bureau, and Dallas County Health Department. We will have additional partners, including, Navi Lens, Capture Management, ISU, and others as we dive deeper into specifics of the project.

Klocke: How did you come to select Dallas County for this project?

Castillo: We have selected Dallas County for this project as it is one of our most diverse counties having 3 hospitals, bordering the Des Moines Metro, which has many specialty healthcare offices and the regional Veterans Administration hospital and clinics. We also have a strong relationship with the Dallas County Health Department and Dallas County hospital staff, making large project like this easier because the knowledge and desire to improve transit and healthcare is already there on both sides.

Klocke: What type of technology are you using for this program?

Castillo: Technology that will enable the customer to use a smart device (e.g., smartphone, smartwatch) application to schedule and manage medical appointments and transportation services all in one location (Unified Health Connector App). This will also provide customers options to choose same day response, send customers alert before arrival and again when the vehicle is approaching. Keep customers informed on trip progress and provide directions (audible and visual) on where to meet the vehicle/driver. On arrival, drivers will have the ability to automatically confirm customer identity.

Then within the Health Connector App (through integration with Navi Lens), the customer will have the ability to utilize advanced wayfinding technology (e.g., advanced color-tags, AR) to enable personal concierge-style travel from origin to destination. This will include, locating the vehicle outside origin and destination locations, locating healthcare facility when dropped off by vehicles and locating desired floor/room when inside the healthcare facility. Wayfinding solution will be able to address the needs of visually, hearing and cognitively impaired using advanced technologies such as built-in AR. Also, needs for customers with Limited English proficiency (LEP) will be addressed (30+ languages supported). It will also alert hospital staff on any customer-specific needs on arrival and customers will be able to use the app for any contactless mobile payment needs at any point during their trip.

Klocke: Are you anticipating any other outcomes outside of increasing mobility options?

Castillo: Our goal is to

  • Improve healthcare access and outcomes for Dallas County residents through improved interaction with and utilization of the county’s transportation infrastructure. For example, using immunization rates as a proxy for preventive health care access and utilization.
  • Expand the extent to which health navigation services are provided to residents of Dallas County, both through an enhanced capacity for DCHD’s Health Navigators and through the ability of county residents, caregivers and service providers to achieve on-line health navigation through use of this Dallas County Health Connector.
  • Through deployment of the Health Connector as an on-line means for Dallas County residents to better achieve complete trips, better utilization of the county’s public transit and active transportation infrastructure will offset the challenges to health status and quality of life for residents experiencing housing burdens or transportation challenges.

Klocke: Could you explain the importance of “Complete Trip” and why it’s critical for the overall success of healthy communities?

Castillo: All Americans need access to high-quality, affordable, safe, frequent and accessible transportation options to access employment opportunities, educational opportunities, healthcare services, and other activities. Through this grant, the USDOT increased its investments in innovations that enhance access and mobility for all travelers, including, but not limited to the following user groups: people with disabilities; older adults; low income; rural; veterans; and limited English proficiency travelers.

Too often transit is thought of as only pickup and drop-off service, however, to the customer, it is much more. We want to create a service that builds a culture of personal mobility and independence for everyone. The success of a complete trip can be defined in terms of an individual’s ability to go from origin to destination reliably, spontaneously, confidently, independently, safely, and efficiently without gaps in the travel chain regardless of location, income, or disability.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.