Connecting Rural Riders to Transportation

Rural Transportation Incubator succeeds in connecting older adults in outlying areas

The Rural Transportation Incubator has made a profound and positive impact on the lives of older adults with low incomes in rural areas, according to a final evaluation of a two-year project.

“More older adults are better connected today to the people, places and activities that matter to them, thanks to the rides and technology made available through the incubator,” said Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Chair John Giles, mayor of Mesa. “Even the pandemic did not stop this important work, as our partnering communities quickly pivoted from transporting older adults to bringing food and supplies for those unable to leave their homes,” he said.

Age Friendly Arizona logoThe incubator was an initiative coordinated by MAG as part of Age Friendly Arizona, which seeks to provide meaningful engagement in the community for people of all ages. The incubator helps fund or support programs designed to connect older adults in rural areas with transportation services.

The incubator was made possible by a two-year grant from The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, as well as the Federal Highway Administration and support from diverse partners nationwide. The investment encouraged additional funding and activity among nonprofit agencies, local governments, and the philanthropic community.

“This work has been shared nationally on a number of occasions, amplifying the positive effects,” said MAG Deputy Executive Director Amy St. Peter. She said being able to shift gears as a result of the changing dynamics during the pandemic was a testament to the program’s structure.

“The flexibility of the grant enabled us to be nimble during the pandemic, resulting in people maintaining this lifeline during dire times,” she said.

The report details the following successes:

  • Provided direct rides to more than 5,000 older adults with low incomes living in rural Arizona.
  • Provided nearly 70,000 rides to meet critical needs such as medical care.
  • Delivered more than 5,000 meals to older adults with low incomes during the height of the pandemic, keeping older adults safe and nourished.
  • Served 12 communities through the incubator with stable support through transportation stipends, technology stipends, eight workshops, and ongoing technical assistance.
  • Launched the state’s first interactive inventory of all human services transportation provider with phone support through a partnership with the Area Agencies on Aging.
  • Leveraged the $300,000 grant with $1.5 million in cash match and in-kind contributions.
  • Reached nine national audiences through conference presentations, webinars, and site visits.
  • Developed two tool kits to promote key lessons learned nationwide, including one to invite the philanthropic community to support transportation programs for older adults and the other to support providers in offering transportation as a response to the pandemic.
  • More than half of older adults served report having greater access to social services, despite the pandemic and periodic stay at home mandates.
  • Strengthened the infrastructure to serve older adults by developing an extensive framework for a robust reporting tool for future development.

The incubator will continue into a third year beyond the initial grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, thanks to the support of community partners such as AARP Arizona and the Vitalyst Health Foundation. A statewide conference is being planned for later this year to share the successes and lessons learned. Additional funding also is being explored to further the work of the incubator.