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Transportation Improvements Key for Future of Rural MN

September 6, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - If rural Minnesota is going to thrive, improvements in public transportation have to be part of the picture, according to the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL). The group's Executive Director, Billy Altom, says the ability to get around affects every facet of a person's life, and without it, the negative effects can pile up like dominoes.

"It's almost a snowball effect sometimes, when you look at, 'Well if I lose my ride, then the next, I've lost my job, I've lost my house,' and then you wind up in dire straits."

Altom says part of the problem with the current systems is that each transportation provider has its own restrictions and routes, many of which don't coordinate with each other. He says getting them to work together would be more efficient, cut costs and improve accessibility.

While there are transportation options in most rural areas for the elderly, poor and people with disabilities, Altom says they need to be better coordinated. Right now, in his view, there's no real system in place.

"It's more of a, for lack of a better term, kind of a hodge-podge of different little providers. You may have Human Services that are providing here, another nonprofit is doing it here. They're not coordinated - yet the monies come from, basically, the same pot of money."

So, Altom's group says, all the providers in rural areas need to get on the same page. He adds that they also need a voice in work on the next federal transportation bill, which he hopes will cover a six-year time period.

"Because if you just do a two-year bill and you're trying to coordinate programs, by the time regulations and stuff come out of the feds - we're two years in, we haven't done anything. So, if we can spread it out into that six years, I think we'll be much better off."

Altom says the next transportation bill also needs to be equitable. He says only six percent of federal transit funding supports rural areas, where 25 percent of Americans live.

More information on APRIL is at www.april-rural.org

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN