The Importance of Connection with Community

Published on: August 30, 2021

The job of a transit operator goes beyond just “driving the bus.” Transit operators are stewards of their community. Why is community connection so important in the transit industry? Many people in our communities rely on public transportation to get to their place of employment, doctors’ appointments, education institution, retail shopping and other events. A lack of transportation is a barrier to receiving access to health care, particularly to individual in rural communities, senior citizens, low-income adults and families and individuals with disabilities.

Health Care

Availability of public transportation is crucial for individuals to have access to health care. Unreliable public transportation causes individuals to miss medical appointments resulting in a delay in medical care. Research has found that access to reliable transportation is directly correlated to usage of medical services, which improves overall health conditions and even reduces the overall rate of hospital stays. TCRP Research Report 223 details how crucial the partnership is between public transportation and the health care community.

In October 2016, the Minnesota Department of Transportation also issued a report regarding the connection between health and transportation (

This report identified and analyzed four key issues:

  1. Transportation Safety
  2. Health Communities
  3. Critical Connections
  4. Equity

The report further offers recommendations section after each of the above key issues on how to improve services.

Education/Employment Access

Another vital way public transportation serves its communities is by helping individuals reach their learning institution or employer. Limited transportation options contribute to higher absenteeism rates amongst many high school and college students. In many communities, the yellow school buses do not transport to high schools, which is why public transportation can be so important to high schoolers who may have no other way of getting to school. Metro Transit offers the Go-To student pass so that high schoolers have a ride to school.

For many individuals, public transportation is their only way they can get to their place of employment. Therefore, transit operators play another critical role in helping individuals make sure they arrive at their places of employment on time, which in turn boosts overall economic health.

Older Adults

Many older adults in our communities are unable to drive due to age or medical conditions and rely on public transportation for their medical appointments and retail trips. Transit operators are vital to help older adults retain their independence. TCRP Report 82 discusses best practices and customer service options to improve public transit options for older person.

Other Key Roles

There are several other reasons why the role of public transportation is so important for communities. Public transportation helps reduce gasoline consumption and reduces the carbon footprint in the United States ( Public transportation contributes to economic opportunities and helps individuals save money (buying, maintaining and operating a car is often the largest expenditure for people after housing).

Ways to Connect

  1. Marketing – Many times people in the community are unaware of the various transportation options available to them. Therefore, good marketing is imperative to help build up ridership and promote transportation options. Marketing should not be limited to online presence. Not all individuals, particularly older adults and individuals living rural communities, have reliable internet access or the capability of accessing the online world. Printed materials that can be handed out or mailed within the community goes a long way in distributing information to the community as a whole.
  2. Coordination – Community planning between transportation providers and health-care providers, local governments, state DOT’s and public housing agencies can improve transportation service. Conducting needs assessment surveys helps agencies understand more clearly the specific needs of individuals in their communities and, therefore, measures can be instituted to try to help those individuals as much as possible.
  3. Public Involvement – Transit agencies who are actively engaging their community’s input can result in building a better transportation system. The Federal Highway Administration issued a report titled “Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision-making” (updated in 2015) discussing how important it is to involve the public in transportation planning. Why? Because members of a community best know what issues, challenges and improvements need to be addressed.

The importance of the role of transit operators and public transportation in our communities cannot be stressed enough. Public transportation holds a great deal of responsibility in connecting with our communities to provide an invaluable service. Pages 2 and 3 of the APTA 2020 Public Transportation Fact Book provides further proof of just how invaluable public transportation is in our communities.

A Minnesota Example: Norwood Young America Bus

In 2017, in the small town of Norwood Young America (NYA), a partnership was formed between several organizations to share a 14-passenger bus. The partnership included SmartLink Transit, the transit group for Scott and Carver counties. The project became known as the NYA Bus.

“Several community partners identified a need for additional transit services in the area, but none could justify the expense for a vehicle on their own,” said Alan Herrmann, SmartLink Transit Supervisor.

The city of NYA and a senior living complex worked together to apply for a 5310 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). To qualify for the grant the primary purpose of the bus must be to provide transportation to seniors and people with disabilities. The grant covered 80 percent of the purchase price of the vehicle, making the project more feasible for the interested partners.

While waiting for bus delivery, the partners worked out additional details to make the NYA Bus shared vehicle program successful. They planned how they would fuel, insure, repair and store the bus. They worked on identifying, qualifying and training drivers. They also created a scheduling process, set fares and identified funding. Finally, they set up a system to track the data required by MnDOT. Contracts were drafted and they grew the partnership enough to keep the bus in use about 30 hours a week.

The NYA Bus partnership started with three senior centers, a church and a pre-school. Then they added a daily treatment and habilitation company, which used the bus regularly on weekdays. Some of the partners have changed since inception. Currently, six organizations partner together for the NYA Bus program.

“The program ran very smoothly because all partners had the bus when they needed it,” said Herrmann. “Then came COVID and everything slowed down.”

SmartLink continues to search for additional partners, such as senior groups and senior care centers from nearby towns, to increase use of the bus.

Often transportation is a barrier for older adults or those with disabilities who can no longer drive, aren’t comfortable driving, or don’t have the ability to drive themselves. Accessing medical appointment, essential groceries/goods, social gatherings, and other appointments is needed for these individuals to stay active and engaged.

Herrmann credits the great cooperation of partners involved and local citizens for the success of the NYA Bus. He said, “In the end, it is the citizens who make the program successful because the NYA Bus helps them live in their homes longer.”


This article was published by RLS & Associates.

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