At ITNAmerica, we are problem solvers. We view obstacles as opportunities that give us a chance to test our creativity. This is the mindset we brought to senior transportation, and it led us to our current arm-through-arm, door-through-door model, a successful pairing of technology, dedicated volunteers and seniors looking for safe, dependable transportation services.
Now we are bringing this same problem solving approach to rural America. Rural communities are aging, saddled by distance and dispersed populations, and often have less wealth to pursue transportation solutions. So what can we do? At ITNAmerica we’ve developed a saying for such situations: “Doing the best we can with what we have.” It’s a mantra for our manner of thinking, and it fed us back when we were working on senior transportation. Now we’re tackling rural mobility with the same mindset.
To begin we ask: What have we got? What tools are at our disposal? What can we access and who are our partners? Hospitals, colleges, large employers, churches, faith-based organizations and community groups all come to mind, as well as trusted community nonprofit organizations with high-occupancy vehicles. Many small communities also count taxis, some public transit, school busses, volunteer services, informal volunteer assistance and above all, personal vehicles. These are the assets, and all can become part of the solution.
There are no easy answers. But in trying to solve protracted challenges it’s better to look at what you have at your disposal than at all the things you wish you had. Looking at the tools at your disposal rather than those you lack helps solutions come into view.
But on-the-ground resources on their own have yet to solve the rural transportation woes. New solutions take new thinking. This is where technology comes in. New tools like Facebook and other social networks allow communication and coordination despite distances. Cellphones put computing power into palm-sized packages. New software and database technology make possible new levels of service coordination and integration. And the convergence of these technologies puts tools never previously available in our hands. These tools offer incredible opportunities for connecting those with transportation needs to transportation resources.
Technology, however, doesn’t act alone. Policy has to keep pace with technology if we are to create real opportunity. To make meaningful change, we must get rid ourselves of restrictive rules, make room for partial solutions and create incentives for private investment. We have to make pilot programs possible and consider avenues that would reimburse volunteers for their contributions. The rewards of tackling rural transportation challenges with such an entrepreneurial approach will be well worth the effort. Social capital in rural areas is waiting to be unleashed. Neighbors are yearning to help neighbors, and all it requires is facilitation.
Mobility supports healthy and fulfilling lives. It makes communities safer, lifestyles healthier, decreases isolation and poverty, and reduces illness. These rewards sit on the horizon, and they are the reason we are working on this problem. “Doing the best we can with what we have” — it’s a simple idea. Now it’s time to see what it can do.