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Transit officials have generally had a rather straightforward job: move the masses. But a growing number of transit agencies are turning their attention to individual riders through a relatively new technique called mobility management.

The strategy involves partnering with other agencies and nonprofits to improve convenience for individual riders and achieve cost savings at the same time, says Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The approach, which has gained traction over the last decade in Denver; Portland, Ore.; Michigan and elsewhere, is especially crucial as transit agencies face an upcoming surge in the number of senior residents expected to use their service.

This spring, APTA held a conference devoted entirely to the concept of mobility management. “The trends are all pointing to this,” Guzzetti says. “We really need to plan and participate.”

In Louisville, Ky., for example, the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) created a mobility manager position in 2006. Nancy Snow, who holds that job, works with the community to assess the needs of riders and match them with the best available transit option, whether it’s paratransit or a particular bus or trolley route. “We need accessible, universal and affordable transportation,” Snow says.

To that end, TARC has stepped outside its traditional role and partnered with about a dozen nonprofits. Since these organizations will increasingly help transport the over 65 and disabled, TARC will perform low-cost vehicle maintenance. Building partnerships with other providers is important, says TARC Executive Director Barry Barker, because the agency doesn’t have the money to increase the size of its own vehicle fleet.

The agency is also contracting with private taxi services to supplement its federally mandated paratransit service, and is using federal grant funds to make its entire bus fleet wheelchair accessible. That move could offer disabled passengers more freedom since they wouldn’t have to make advanced reservations to use paratransit, and it could save TARC money since it’s less expensive to provide bus service than paratransit.

Once aging baby boomers hang up their car keys, they’ll begin relying on transit agencies to “demystify the experience for someone where public transit is new,” Guzzetti says. Snow has partnered with the city to improve bus stops and surrounding sidewalks for passengers, and she’s helped coordinate travel training to teach residents how to use the transit system.

TARC’s Barker says the concept of mobility management extends beyond Snow’s role and is now part of the agency’s culture. “It is all about giving people an array of options where they live.”