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Statewide Human Services Transportation Plan – Open House – Background

What is human services transportation?

Human services transportation helps people with mobility challenges and other special transportation needs get to where they need to go. Many folks experience transportation challenges because of disability, low income, age or other factors. When transportation services fail to meet their needs, they are unable to get to medical appointments, work, school, shopping and other services. These gaps in service lead to more problems—including poor health, lower wages, isolation and overall poor quality of life.

Human Services Transportation providers can include public transit agencies, nonprofits, tribes and private operators.

Who uses human services transportation?

Many Washingtonians rely on human services transportation to access food, medical and social services, work, school and more.

People with dedicated transportation services and programs include:

  • People with disabilities
  • People with low incomes
  • People who are older than 65
  • Veterans
  • People living on tribal land
Mobility Needs Map
This map shows the distribution of people who have dedicated transportation services in Washington state.

If you think you may qualify for dedicated transportation services, you can learn more here.

Older gentleman standing in front of Veterans Medical Center
Man pushing another man in a wheelchair heading into a building entrance.

Examples of other groups with special transportation needs include (but are not limited to):

  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Migrant/seasonal workers
  • Families with young children
  • Students
  • People with limited English proficiency
Young woman holding a baby and pushing a stroller

The need for human services transportation is growing in Washington state as more people are aging, speaking languages other than English, and as housing costs rise. Rising housing costs lead to more people experiencing homelessness or moving further from the services they rely on.

What types of services do people with special transportation needs use?

Human services customers rely on these services to get where they need to go:

Young man and woman crossing the street with a bus stopped behind them. He is carrying a purple binder and she is walking a bike with a backpack on her back.

Buses, rail and ferries run on regular, scheduled routes with fixed stops.

Big white Dial-A-Ride van.

Demand-response service allows passengers to contact an agency and request transportation to a specific location at a set time.

Older woman in pink sweater getting onto Dial-A-Ride van with walker with attendant nearby.

Some buses or vans stop at fixed points and keeps to a timetable but can change course between two stops depending on the needs of the customers.

View from inside a car with a woman in red jacket giving a ride to a passenger.

When convenient service is not available, many people with special transportation needs rely heavily on friends and family members for rides.

Older woman smiling wearing a pink sweater coming out of a facility with a walker and another woman with a walker right behind her with attendant right behind them.

Everyone uses active transportation at some point in a trip, whether walking to a rail station, bicycling to work or rolling home from a bus stop.

People with special transportation needs may require more support to learn about the services and training on how to use them. Many mobility management groups identify needs for the people they serve, connect people to services and coordinate services between providers to reduce gaps and increase efficiency for people with special transportation needs.

How do customers pay for human services transportation?

Programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and low-income fares help offset the costs of human services transportation for customers.

  • Medicare: Medicare is a federal insurance program funded by taxes. Medicare eligibility is determined by age and disability status. Most citizens are automatically eligible once they reach the age of 65, but certain disabilities and medical needs like kidney dialysis allow citizens to tap into these benefits before the age of 65. However, these benefits are not comprehensive for all Medicare recipients – participants must be enrolled in Medicare Advantage to use the full extent of the transportation benefits for non-emergency medical trips.
  • Medicaid: Medicaid is a federal entitlement program that pays for basic health services for people with low-incomes and long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities. The federal government requires states to provide nonemergency medical transportation (NEMT) for eligible individuals who could not otherwise access medical facilities and services. In Washington state, this transportation is arranged through regional brokerages under contract to the Washington State Healthcare Authority (HCA). Brokers are responsible for screening client and trip eligibility, determining appropriate transportation mode (including fixed-route or public paratransit service), coordinating with service partners, and managing other administrative aspects of the program. Medicaid eligibility is determined by income and household size.
  • Low-income fares and programs: Even though public transit is more affordable than owning a car, transit fares are often still too expensive for many individuals in poverty. Low-income fare programs help offset these costs, but they vary across Washington. Local or county governments typically manage these programs by establishing the policies and eligibility criteria. Some agencies and organizations have low-income fare programs or special fares for children, students, and people over the age of 65. More recently, some public transit providers adopted zero-fare systems, which eliminates the need for passengers to pay fares altogether. The state provides some additional assistance to homeless youth through the McKinney-Vento Act. This program sets up funding for schools to help facilitate transportation options for homeless youth.