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Transportation Improvements Key for Future of Rural Texas

September 8, 2011

AMARILLO, Texas - For rural communities to thrive, a new report concludes, improvements in public transportation have to be part of the picture.

The report by the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) says lawmakers working on a federal transportation bill should seek better coordination between rural and urban transportation systems.

It can take 13 or 14 hours for elderly or disabled non-drivers to just visit the doctor, says Jamie Allen, local government services coordinator with the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, a council of governments representing 26 Texas counties in a 26,000-square-mile area. She says one thing, above all, would help.

"More money. We need state and federal legislators to realize that transportation doesn't just affect people's individual abilities to get to the doctor or to get to church or to social functions. It affects economic development."

The ability to get around affects every facet of a person's life, agrees Billy Altom, APRIL's executive director. Without it, he says, the negative effects can pile up like dominoes.

"It's almost a snowball effect sometimes, whenever you look at, 'OK, 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."

Rural communities need a voice in the next transportation bill, Altom says, adding that only 6 percent of federal transit funding supports rural areas - where 25 percent of Americans live.

A common problem is integration of transportation systems, Altom says. Each provider has its own restrictions and routes, many of which don't coordinate with other providers. While transportation options for the elderly poor and people with disabilities exist in most rural areas, getting those services to work together would be more efficient, cut costs and improve accessibility.

"It's 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."

In the Panhandle, Allen says, coordination between services is better than in a lot of other regions - partly because an ad-hoc transportation committee meets quarterly for the express purpose of finding and filling public transportation gaps.

More information on the APRIL report is online at april-rural.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX