Case Study: CPACS Ride - Lessons Learned in Five Phases

Project Details: 

Name: CPACS Ride

Dates: October 2020 – March 2022

Location: Clarkston, GA

Initial Team: 

  • Frank Lee, Director of Transportation, Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) 
  • Kofi Wakhisi, Senior Principal Planner, Transportation Access and Mobility Group, Atlanta Regional Commission
  • Joseph Yawn, Transportation Technology Administrator, Mobility Services Group, Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)
  • Al Benedict, Director, Learning Center & Accessibility Programs, Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC)
  • Hannah Wilson, Project Manager, Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC)

As explained below in one of the lessons learned, the team grew as the project evolved. New members include:

  • Connie White, Manager of HCBS Provider Network Unit, Aging & Independent Services, Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)
  • Ryan Walker, Compliance Program Coordinator, Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL) (Joined the team in Phase 2 lessons learned)
  • Loammi T. Aviles | Transit Operations Analyst | Transportation, Gwinnett County Transit (GCT) (Joined the team in Phase 2 lessons learned)

Introduction

CPACS Ride evaluates what it takes to organize and implement a community-led Demand Response Transit (DRT) and Mobility on Demand (MOD) system with goals of coordinating trips between two transit agencies in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The project, funded by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), hopes to improve operational efficiency while preserving the strengths of its existing high-touch and culturally aware services. The project starts with updating the scheduling and dispatching processes, will move to implement a MOD system, and draw on the Transactional Data Specification for trip sharing, all using an inclusive planning approach.

Often referred to as “the most diverse square mile in America,” the project is located in Clarkston, GA, a northeast suburb of Atlanta and home for people from six continents speaking dozens of languages and containing an agglomeration of refugee resettlement and immigrant service agencies. Social equity and accessibility are central to the project, which focuses on the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities, who are often lower-income, non-English speaking immigrants. The Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc. (CPACS) is a nonprofit organization located in Atlanta, Ga and the first and largest Asian and Pacific Islander health and human service agency in the Southeast region. They provide a variety of health and social services, including transportation services to immigrants, refugees, and underprivileged populations.

Our hope is to release lessons learned from the CPACS Ride microtransit project as it unfolds so that others can experience them alongside the project team and the community residents that it aims to serve. The lessons learned are not exhaustive; rather, the goal is to share some of the specific actions we’ve taken that have helped us plan transit service in a diverse community. Future summaries will look at procurement; planning and operations; monitoring, optimizing, and scaling; and using data specifications to achieve integration of mobility services. 

Phase 1: Learning & Building Trust

  1. Be intentional about the path to building trust

With a project focused on improving the lives of vulnerable populations, building a relationship based on trust is essential to its success. This can be difficult when some of the project team members are outside of the community or organization the project is serving. This is the case for this project and we learned there were multiple levels of confidence required to break through before reaching the community members themselves.  

  • Project Team Trust: The first level of trust to gain was between Frank, the CPACS Director of Transportation, and the rest of the project team. Frank understands the community’s needs and is committed to meeting them through CPACS services. The project team had to first gain Frank’s confidence and show him that our goal was to improve, not replace, operations and that we would implement this project with care.
  • Create space for open dialogue: From the beginning of the project we set up weekly calls to understand the logistics of how CPACS operates and learn about the unique social and cultural characteristics of the communities it serves. Having an initial goal of listening and learning worked better for us than always entering  discussions with a prescriptive agenda. This fostered meetings that left time for non-action items and for open conversations. One of the most important was on what meaningful community engagement would look like for these communities.  
  • Bringing in Key Stakeholders: Once Frank understood our intentions and the goals of the project were aligned, he was able to introduce the project team to the drivers of CPACS that also serve as community leaders for these populations. These individuals are invaluable members of the community and transportation services – logistically, culturally and socially. They played a huge role in translating our presentations and engagement activities to the community members. Their importance in this project was felt especially when one of the drivers and community leaders left CPACS and the project team lost one of its primary communication channels with the Burmese community.
  1. Adapt standard processes to better serve each community or group

Establishing a steering committee is a common community engagement strategy. However, Frank explained to the project team that the Burmese, Bhutanese, and Korean communities may feel the concept of a steering committee is an “Americanized” process with a structure that these communities might not understand or feel comfortable with. With this information, we brainstormed the best ways to engage with community members in a culturally appropriate way. One decision we made was changing the name of the Steering Committee to the Community Leadership Group. Other decisions determined how to approach the group, where and how often they should meet, what topics we should cover, and how we should structure the community engagement. Examples include:

  • Meeting Riders on their Terms:  We rode along with the Community Leadership Team to a flea market and shopping center. From these early meetings in familiar settings, we learned key findings. For example, while nearly everyone on the Community Leadership Group had a smartphone, many did not know how to use it well, including how to install and set up an app. 

Frank Lee, Director of Transportation at CPACS, conducts a survey with the Burmese community on a shuttle to the flea market

  • Working 1:1 with Riders and Recognizing their Value: The team sees the Community Leadership Group as ambassadors to the project so it was important to work closely with them and acknowledge their value. The team developed resources, such as a Zoom manual, to facilitate 1:1 meetings with members of the Community Leadership Group. Frank used this manual to individually show the older Korean adults how to use Zoom before the one-on-one interviews and to bring them together as a group. The Community Leadership Group was also given gift cards to the local grocery store as a gesture to recognize the value of their input and time. When we met with them, we reviewed what we learned from them during the last meeting to show them we were listening and that their input matters. 
  • Getting Creative with Meeting Locations: The project team held community based meetings on CPACS shuttles on multiple occasions. During COVID-19, this offered an opportunity to spread individuals out while still offering a place for each community to be together. The shuttles had a translator specific to the language spoken by those participants so that the meeting could be held simultaneously in multiple languages.  
Picture of a Zoom meeting with a slide from the presentation and nine images of different people on the Zoom meeting. Leadership Group members met on different CPACS Shuttles with translators.

Community Leadership Group meeting with Burmese, Bhutanese and Korean populations meeting separately on CPACS Shuttles.

  1. Building Strong Partnerships

Strong partnerships are a key component to a successful project. Partnerships offer the opportunity to coordinate services across government agencies, better understand the community members, involve the private sector, and also draw from experience and expertise of others. This project involves a partnership between Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS), Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL), and Gwinnett County Transit (GCT). The project will soon involve a private partner to serve as the Software-as-a-Service vendor. Two particularly important partnerships to date include: 

  • Intergovernmental Coordination: This project involves working across multiple government agencies in the region—sharing a common goal and each bringing a unique contribution to the project. This coordination helps to break-down silos that often present barriers to the success of a project. Specifically, in this phase the team engaged Connie White, Aging and Independent Services at Atlanta Regional Commission. Connie was able to provide unique perspectives on the aging population during our emphasis on engaging the community.
  • Strong Community Partner: While CPACS is the transit operator, it is also a social services organization with  strong ties to the community it serves. Other projects looking to plan a community mobility system should engage the community early, bring them to the table in the decision-making process, and continue this engagement for the life of a project. Identify who the community leaders are to build the trust required to work together and develop an effective solution for the community. The team could not have effectively engaged the community without drawing on CPACS’ relationships.

Conclusion

These lessons learned represent the first stage of the project: building trust among the project partners. Any successful project needs this foundation to build-on in order to develop a project that is understood, accepted, and used by a community. With this in mind, it is important for projects to leave enough time for this foundational component. Future summaries will look at procurement; planning and operations; monitoring, optimizing, and scaling; and using data specifications to achieve integration of mobility services. Lessons learned from these stages of the project will range from understanding outcomes as an iterative process to continued partnership building. These brief summaries will be shared as they are experienced to help other agencies understand some of the nuances of planning and implementing a mobility project.