This email newsletter is an effort by the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access (MCOTA) to provide periodic updates about its initiatives to the public and to interested stakeholders. Please let us know what you think by contacting Arlene Mathison at or Tom Gottfried at Subscribe to the newsletter.

Minnesota's Road to Volunteer Drivers Virtual Forum Series

road through forestThe launch of Minnesota's Road to Volunteer Drivers Virtual Forum Series was on November 18, with the Current State and a Look into the Future of Volunteer Drivers. With about 140 attendees, presenters Suzanne Sobotka of the Governor's Office, John Doan of Mobility 4 All, and Tom Gottfried, Executive Director of MCOTA, shared their perspectives about the current status of volunteer driver programs in Minnesota, and what the future might look like for these essential services. The event recording, slides, and Q&A with the audience are available on the event page.

Minnesota's Road to Volunteer Drivers Virtual Forum Series runs through May 2021. Recordings of each forum along with presentation materials are posted on the event website following each event.

Constituent stories critical to passage of 2021 bills supporting volunteer drivers

Minnesota state senator Jeff Howe

Senator Jeff Howe

Minnesota state senator Jeff Howe offered encouragement and strategic guidance to stakeholders and supporters of volunteer drivers and the 80,000 Minnesotans they serve each year. Howe was a featured speaker during the Dec. 9 forum in Minnesota's Road to Volunteer Drivers Virtual Forum Series, which focused on policy issues and real-life stories.

Howe joined longtime public transportation advocate Sherry Munyon for a discussion about ways to advance legislation considered key to recruiting and retaining volunteer drivers in the state.

Central Minnesota Council on Aging executive director Lori Vrolson opened the forum by sharing data and stories told by volunteer drivers and riders highlighting the crucial difference the services continue to make in meeting basic needs, especially for older adults and people with disabilities in every corner of the state. Organizations with volunteer driver programs serving Minnesota served nearly 80,000 people in 2018 and drivers covered more than 9.5 million miles.

Dawn Simonson, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging and co-chair of the Volunteer Driver Coalition, shared information and survey data about how essential volunteer drivers are to Minnesotans. Simonson also echoed Howe's call to action. The Coalition created a Call to Action toolkit to make it easy for constituents to contact their legislators.

Volunteer Driver Coalition's Call to Action

Howe, who has been a champion for volunteer drivers in the Minnesota Legislature, represents the mostly rural District 13 just west of St. Cloud. Howe's legislative collaborators in support of volunteer drivers, Rep. Dan Wolgamott, who represents District 14B in St. Cloud, and Rep. Dave Lislegard, who represents District 6B on the Iron Range, were unable to participate in the forum as originally planned.

In recent years, volunteer drivers and the organizations they serve have been hampered by a handful of discouraging barriers with increasing financial implications. Among them, volunteers have experienced increasing insurance rates, liability concerns, and inadequate and often-taxable mileage reimbursements.

So far, legislative remedies at the state and federal levels have proven elusive. This year, the legislative efforts will focus on the definition of volunteer drivers and a tax subtraction for reimbursements to volunteer drivers. Howe's goal is to have the bills introduced at the start of the legislative session.

"I'm very, very optimistic that with the new bill this year, we'll be able to get something done," Howe says, with one stipulation. "We need to emphasize how critical your part is in getting these bills through the legislature. It is important for you to contact your legislators, both in the House and the Senate."

Howe explained the importance of personal stories in the legislative process, especially through letters, phone calls, emails, text messages, and, if possible, personal visits or presentations to legislators.

"When they hear from their constituents that need these services, it makes a huge impact," he says. "It's important to have that touch — how it impacts you or someone you know. Those stories stick with people."

When possible, Howe recommends sharing links to videos with personal stories, then following up with a phone call, asking for their support, and providing any information the legislator needs to make an informed decision.

See the forum web page for presentation materials, including links to the real-world stories and the Volunteer Driver Coalition's Call to Action toolkit.

Newtrax partners with restaurants for innovative food delivery service

Newtrax driver picking up restaurant meals for delivery

Newtrax' Scott Olson with driver picking up meals for delivery

Newtrax, the Ramsey County TCAP, began an innovative meal delivery service this fall, and was featured in the local news (A different sort of meals on wheels, White Bear News, Nov. 4, 2020). Weekly delivery of takeout meals from local restaurants to seniors and families in need is a triple-win for the participating restaurants, customers, and Newtrax itself, helping to meet needs caused by the pandemic.

"Credit for the new program goes to Newtrax Transportation Coordinator Scott Olson. He got the idea after working with Loaves and Fishes to deliver 800,000 meals to families impacted by the pandemic through 28 YMCAs. "We thought, 'How do we do something here with prepared meals to stimulate growth with restaurants and provide meals for seniors in need?'" Olson said. 'Local restaurants get an extra boost and we create consistent shifts for Newtrax drivers.'"

With financial support from the cities of White Bear Lake, Mahtomedi, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake, and White Bear Township as well as from local community foundations, 14 restaurants--guaranteed profitable pricing--participate in the program, which has delivered more than 8,800 meals to date. Residents are also donating to the growing program to pay-it-forward.

More information:

Region 5 RTCC update

Region 5 county map (Wadena, Todd, Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison)

At the November meeting of MCOTA, Region 5 Regional Development Commission Regional Planner Matt Kallroos provided an update about Region 5 (Central Minnesota) Regional Transportation Coordinating Council Phase 2 Operational Implementation Plan.

Region 5 RTCC includes the counties of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena.

The four goals of the Region Five Regional Transportation Coordination Council include:

  1. Establish a Transportation Management Coordination Center
  2. Start a Volunteer Driver Program Committee
  3. Begin Developing the Groundwork for a Regional Transit Network
  4. Explore ways to simplify, streamline, and coordinate policies and procedures and identify ways that transportation systems could be fiscally sustained
Cover of Region 5 RTCC Phase Two Plan

Phase 3 of the R5RTCC will conclude in June 2021.

More information:

SmartLink: Mobility management for Scott and Carver counties

SmartLink: Mobility management then and now

In November, SmartLink's Alan Herrmann shared information about SmartLink's mobility management initiatives in Scott and Carver counties at the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access' bi-monthly meeting.

Herrmann highlighted the history of SmartLink and its current Mobility Board structure. SmartLink also engages with the community through a Needs Group and with a group of transportation providers. Constant engagement with these groups helps SmartLink to understand the gaps in transportation services and to shape its services to meet local needs. Themes include employment, education, and senior transportation.

During COVID-19, SmartLink is involved in the County Emergency Operations Command, has safety procedures in place such as temperature taking, sanitizing of equipment, passenger capacity limitations, and is delivering essential goods such as food and PPE.

Future initiatives mentioned by Herrmann include:

  • Hospital/clinic transports-health care workers
  • NEMT network uses-foster care, child and family...
  • Veterans transportation coordination
  • Mobility hubs/automated vehicles
  • Food/PPE distribution
  • Minority/Senior/Disabled Outreach-equity
  • TNC (Uber/Lyft) solutions
  • Volunteer van-rural areas
  • School needs
  • 5310 shared vehicle shopping loops

See Herrmann's SmartLink Scott/Carver County TCAP Presentation (PDF) for more information.

Public transportation can play key role in addressing social isolation in older adults

older adults on a transit bus

Photo: DARTS

Social isolation, particularly among older adults, is a key social determinant of health. Social isolation and loneliness lead to poorer health outcomes, greater health care spending, and even greater mortality. According to new U of M research, public transportation is one promising avenue to mitigate these concerns by connecting people to resources, community amenities and events, and one another.

Read the full story in the CTS Catalyst, October 2020.

Upcoming MCOTA meetings

MCOTA usually meets bimonthly on a Wednesday from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. In accordance with recommendations from the State of Minnesota to help slow the spread of COVID-19, upcoming meetings will be remote only. The meetings are open, and members of the public are welcome to attend. Each meeting includes time for public comments. See the MCOTA website for more details.

  • January 27, 2021, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
  • March 27, 2021, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
  • June 27, 2021, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.