Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services is one of 22 recipients of an enhanced mobility grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.

The transportation planning board approved nearly $9.5 million in grants with matching funds at its Jan. 22 meeting for 24 different projects designed to make transportation more accessible and generally improve the mobility of older residents and people with disabilities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.

Responsible for facilitating community engagement and providing recreational, educational, and developmental programs, Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services received two grants, one for $607,000 to expand the county’s Fairfax Mobility Access Project and the other for $187,000 to purchase three wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The TPB allocates grants from the Federal Transit Administration’s enhanced mobility program to local agencies and private nonprofits every two years.

Since it became the FTA’s designated program recipient in 2013, the board has granted more than $26 million to 72 projects across the D.C. region based on recommendations from selection committees generally comprised of aging, disability, transit, and human services experts.

“These projects help remove barriers to transportation service and expand mobility options for these communities,” TPB Chair Kelly Russell said. “The Transportation Planning Board plays the unique role of prioritizing and selecting the projects to receive federal funding, which relates to our goals of creating a more inclusive and accessible region.”

According to a presentation delivered to TPB on Jan. 22 by selection committee chair Kacy Kostiuk and transportation planner Lynn Winchell-Mendy, the board received 29 applications totaling $12.3 million in requested funding but had only approximately $7.3 million available from the Federal Transit Administration.

The selection committee recommended funding 24 of the 29 projects, which range from support for volunteer driver programs, travel training, and taxi voucher programs to accessible vehicles for transporting individuals to medical appointments, employment sites, and other activities.

This round of grants will help 16 projects acquire a total of 81 wheelchair-accessible vehicles, including three for Fairfax County.

Neighborhood and Community Services will add the vehicles to its Fastran fleet, which provides transport to residents of the county and the Cities of Fairfax and Falls Church who participate in certain human services programs, including adult day care, the community services board, senior centers and residences, critical medical care, and therapeutic recreation services.

NCS’s larger grant will go to the Fairfax County Mobility Access Project, which started about four years ago to improve and coordinate services and resources in the county and the region for an accessible, affordable transportation network for older adults and individuals with disabilities.

In addition to supporting community outreach and the department’s work with partners, such as volunteer transportation organizations, the $607,000 grant will go toward a new program called Transportation Options, Programs, and Services, or TOPS.

With an anticipated start date of July 1, TOPS is the next phase of an existing county program that gives taxi vouchers to eligible Fairfax County and City of Fairfax residents.

Where the current program issues paper vouchers and is focused solely on taxis, TOPS will give participants debit cards that they can also use for ride-share companies, such as Uber and Lyft, and to upload money onto the SmarTrip cards utilized by Metro and most local bus systems.

“There’s a lot of first and last-mile barriers,” Fairfax County mobility manager Cynthia Alarico said. “We certainly have a great public transportation system, but we’re hoping the multimodal options that we’re adding to the program will increase access to public transit.”

TOPS could potentially expand in the future to include bike share and scooter services as well, according to Fairfax County human services transportation manager Glenn Padeway.

Fairfax County is also partnering with the Dulles Area Transportation Association, a regional nonprofit transportation management association, to develop ways to better serve local veterans, a population that has seen an increase in homelessness in the area and has a lot of mobility needs for accessing employment, medical care, and other services, Alarico says.

The Dulles Area Transportation Association is among the other organizations that received an enhanced mobility grant from the Transportation Planning Board, which allocated $297,000 in funding to the association’s program for recruiting Spanish-speaking volunteers and drivers in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Winchell-Mendy, the TPB transportation planner, says the enhanced mobility grant program follows a local human services transportation coordinated plan that the board develops with its Access for All Advisory Committee, which is made up of residents, representatives of nonprofit groups, and other community leaders.

Tasked with advising the TPB on the needs of traditionally underserved communities, including low-income, minority, and non-English-speaking populations as well as older adults and people with disabilities, the access for all committee determines the parameters of the enhanced mobility grant program and sets priority projects and strategies based on where they see unmet needs.

The selection committee then uses the criteria established by the advisory committee to decide which of the submitted projects it should recommend for funding, with an emphasis on projects that coordinate between or within agencies “so that funds are being used more efficiently,” says Winchell-Mendy.

This year’s grant program followed slightly different priorities from previous years. Filling the first-mile and last-mile gaps between public transportation and individuals’ actual destinations emerged as a particular concern, as did the need to increase wheelchair-accessible options for taxi and ride-hailing services.

One of more unique grant recipients from this year’s enhanced mobility program is a “train the trainer” program run by The Arc of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

The nonprofit will use its $493,000 grant to support its TravelMate software, which uses text, real-life images, and tools on an iPad or tablet to guide users step-by-step through a trip or commute on public transportation.

Fairfax County will also benefit from the enhanced mobility grant program through ECHO, a nonprofit that received a $134,000 grant to procure two wheelchair-accessible vehicles that will be used to transport its participants.

Established in 1974 to support adults with disabilities, ECHO offers skill building, vocational training, job placement, day support, transportation, and other services at its Leesburg facility and elsewhere in Northern Virginia for its partners, including the Loudoun and Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Boards.

According to Kinta Carter, ECHO’s director of fleet services, the nonprofit currently has buses and vans to serve 13 routes with 11 full-time drivers, though other employees also assist with driving throughout the week.

“Our overall goal is to expand our transportation, make it more accessible to individuals…[and] become more visible in the community,” Carter said. “…The more vehicles we have, the more clients we can reach.”

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