Montana State University and Moscow partnership improves transportation accessibility

BOZEMAN: The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University and Moscow State University for Transport Engineering (MIIT) in Russia have completed a unique, year-long collaboration designed to make transportation in rural communities more accessible to people with disabilities.

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Wheelchair ramp on a Streamline bus is an example of how transportation can be made more accessible to people with disabilities. Photo courtesy Western Transportation Institute.

In both countries, rural transit agencies struggle to meet accessibility requirements because of limited funding and large service areas, according to WTI program manager Susan Gallagher, the project’s principal investigator.

“This project offered an opportunity to develop solutions from a cross-cultural perspective,” Gallagher said.

The project has its origins in a chance meeting between MIIT professor Irina Karapetyants and Paul Foster, director of the Office of International Studies and Outreach at MSU Billings, who was visiting Russia in 2013 as part of a U.S. State Department program to foster educational collaboration between the two countries. After Karapetyants expressed interest in WTI’s work, Foster connected the two institutions.

At that time, WTI and MIIT were in the process of stepping up their roles in addressing regional transportation workforce needs. In 2014, the Federal Highway Administration selected WTI to lead the new West Region Transportation Workforce Center, created to help develop a well-trained transportation workforce across 10 Western states. Meanwhile, as Russia prepared to host the 2014 Winter Paralympics, Russia’s Ministry of Transport established a special Training Resource Center for Accessible Transportation at MIIT, with similar training goals.

“Both parties recognized that we have a lot in common, in terms of serving large, low-population areas,” and that both would benefit from sharing research findings and other resources, Gallagher said.

After securing a grant from the Eurasia Foundation in 2015 that allowed WTI and MIIT to discuss mutual goals, the partners decided to focus on increasing accessibility to people with disabilities in rural and small urban communities, according to Gallagher.

“A primary focus of the project was on producing well-trained staff capable of providing quality assistance to passengers with disabilities,” Gallagher said.

After WTI researchers collected information about different accessibility training programs, it shared the information with MIIT, as well as with transit providers in the U.S., both on the West Region Transportation Workforce Center website and through a series of webinars. During the project, the West Region Transportation Workforce Center added information about roughly 170 transit training programs to its online searchable database, and added links to over 50 relevant research papers and other resources to its website.

The researchers also compared accessibility education programs and data from surveys of transit providers in their respective countries to identify barriers and successes to providing accessible transportation services. The results led WTI researchers to identify ways that they could improve regional training programs, according to Gallagher.

“The success of the project partnership exceeded expectations,” she said. “The team is eager to identify opportunities to continue these initial efforts.”

The project was jointly sponsored by the Eurasia Foundation’s University Partnership Program and by the Small Urban and Rural Livability Center, a University Transportation Center supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation and led by WTI. The project team included transit training experts from Easterseals Project Action Consulting. The project is one of 20 international global initiatives with which WTI has been involved.

 

 

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