Getting to Work: Tennessee’s Job Access Plan

Light blue (top) and dark blue (bottom) background image with text: "Tennessee's Job Access Plan Funded by a Federal Transit Administration "Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone" grant, TDOT's Job Access Plan will design a program to support job-related transportation in Tennessee." An image of a male with his back turned sitting in a chair in front of windows on public transportation is to the right.

The Office of Mobility and Accessible Transportation is a new office in the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), created in March 2020 by the Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act.  The mission of the Office is to provide resources and expertise for expanding and improving accessible transportation and mobility across the state.  Accessible public transportation is available in all 95 counties of Tennessee, but not every traveler has access to transportation when and where they need it.  We are working to help make accessible transportation more widely available and easier to use so that more Tennesseans—especially seniors and individuals with disabilities—can get where they need to go.

TDOT was awarded a planning grant through the Federal Transit Administration’s “Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone” (HOPE) program to develop a statewide plan to help facilitate employment access into and from Persistent Poverty Areas, as well as encourage regional economic health.  The Office of Mobility and Accessible Transportation has partnered with the consultant planning firm KFH Group to complete this plan.  The goal of this project is a fully developed plan for a statewide Job Access Reverse Commute program, which could be used to create a state-funded plan, to apply for competitive federal grant opportunities, or as a model for agencies in the state to implement locally-funded programs.

The Job Access Reverse Commute program, also known as JARC, is a federal transit program which supports employment-related transportation, such as transportation to and from jobs, job training, or job-related childcare.  The program also specifically addresses “reverse commute” transportation, or transportation into suburban areas for employment.  This federal program used to be a standalone transportation program, which had special public transit funding that could only be used for job access projects.  However, in 2012 the JARC program was combined into the general public transit formula funding program.  Job access programs are still allowed, but they no longer have dedicated funding.

Job Access Now
Due to the federal program changes, some regions in Tennessee have special job access programs, while others do not.  All transit agencies in Tennessee provide job-related transportation as part of their general public transit program.  However, our statewide needs assessment, which honed in on accessible transportation needs across the state, found that some people’s job-related transportation needs were not met by the transportation options available in their communities.  For people with disabilities who use public transportation to meet their transportation needs, these findings were especially important.

For example, some people need transportation to and from second- or third-shift work, outside of many agencies’ operating hours.  Some people also reported that the transportation options that were available to them did not have affordable fares, particularly some “on-demand” options like taxis or ride-sharing apps.  In fact, the needs assessment noted that “transportation to and from work on a regular and reliable basis is one of the most significant transportation challenges.”

Statewide Job Access Plan
The first and most important stage of the planning process is happening now: Stakeholder and Community Engagement.  This includes focus groups, surveys, interviews, and other engagement efforts to find out what local employment transportation needs are.  Because job access needs may be different across cities, counties, and regions, it’s important that we hear from as many people as possible as we develop this plan.  If you would like to participate in the planning process, you can find more information on the project, as well as see local opportunities to participate in the plan, on the project website.

If you are interested in learning more about accessible transportation in Tennessee, come find us on the TDOT website.