By Matt de Simone
Botetourt County established a Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission-led team in 2020 to develop transportation to help the elderly and/or disabled citizens in rural areas. Botetourt represents one of four communities selected by the National Center of Mobility Management (NCMM) for the project’s development.
A couple of years ago, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) ran a Community Health Assessment, which featured several meetings with different community groups. During those meetings, transportation for rural seniors was a top issue—specifically for individuals in northern Botetourt County.
The Community Mobility Design Challenge is a three-phased project designed to help communities better their transportation for citizens who may not have the ability to drive themselves to their appointments in the Roanoke Valley. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed solution workshops. Despite not having the chance to meet in person, the team continued to work diligently in a virtual capacity to figure out a better way to solve the transportation issues.
The project brought together the Eagle Rock Ruritans and other Botetourt County organizations. Working together, the team came up with four options. According to Rachel Ruhlen, Transportation Planner for the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, two of the four options are under consideration.
Ruhlen recently explained that the team came up with a hybridized plan that features scheduling a weekly transport and developing a community map.
The weekly transport would involve a weekly shuttle from Eagle Rock to Roanoke that picks up individuals from their homes or a central meeting location and takes them to appointments in Roanoke.
The community map would be an app that better generates a scheduling plan with the information distributed in a marketing plan across social media, emails, and phone calls connecting the community and informing them of the pick-up schedule.
“We interviewed about a dozen people (about a possible weekly shuttle service)” Ruhlen explained. “We heard, ‘If I knew when the shuttle was scheduled, I would try to schedule my appointment or errand for that day (the shuttle arrives).’”
The design challenge team includes Botetourt County staff members, but is ultimately a citizen-led initiative. The primary source of input comes from Botetourt County citizens.
According to Deputy County Administrator David Moorman, the team continues to assess the plans in terms of what the project demands/needs.
“My sense has been that there is recognition that the best solution may include others than the county, not to say that the county would not likely be part of the solution,” Moorman added.
The team recently completed the first phase of the project (developing solutions). The second phase involves a shorter period of exploration and testing of solutions. The third phase would be a trial run of launching the shuttle services and the marketing piece.
“We hope to have a shuttle operating as early as 2022,” Ruhlen added.
To read the overview of the project, visit rvarc.org/author/rachel.