Transportation in Indian Country: Getting Started

Efforts to improve services and achieve cost savings through coordination of transportation activities among federal agencies vary. Local programs that serve tribal communities can use this resource when coordinating their tribal transportation activities.

Technical Assistance Brief No. 1
July 1995

Transportation is a key factor in developing the economies of American Indian tribes. Mobility linkages allow people to seek and hold jobs, attend schools, access health care, and fully participate in community life.

This technical assistance brief is designed to help tribes get started in providing transportation services and to identify a range of resources for current and future use. Four worksheets are available with this TA Brief.

Getting Started
Vehicle Inventory
Funding Resources
Identifying Additional Resources
Putting It All Together
Components of Community Transportation Assistance Project


Of the 547 federally recognized tribes, only 19 currently have any form of public transportation funded by the Federal Transit Administration's Section 18 program. Often, tribes rely on human services agencies, such as the Indian Health Service, aging or Head Start programs, for some of their most critical transportation needs. While these services help with specific program needs, many people are falling through the cracks, and overall tribe's transportation needs are not met.

Fortunately, having some human services transportation programs in place can help tribes move quickly toward developing a public transportation network that can be used by the entire community. Coordinating human services transportation will improve tribal members' access to jobs and services. Coordination efforts can result in:

  1. More services to more people
  2. More effective use of resources, including equipment and staff
  3. Elimination of duplicative transportation services and less vehicle down-time
  4. Possible leveraging of additional transportation dollars
  5. Greater economic prosperity through employment mobility
  6. Better quality of life for many tribal members

Getting Started

You will need to know the full range of resources available to you before you can coordinate your tribal transportation activities. The following steps will help you determine the various resources which could be used within a coordinated transportation effort to improve services. If you have questions as you work through this technical assistance brief, please call the Community Transportation Assistance Project (CTAP) toll-free hotline at 800-527-8279.

Vehicle Inventory

A wide range of possibilities exist for shared vehicle use by tribal transportation providers. To get a complete picture of your tribe's vehicle inventory, look at programs such as: Head Start, senior centers, job training programs, rehabilitation, education and health care facilities. Talk with the people who administer these programs to find out how participants reach their services.

If programs have vehicles for transporting their participants, ask for information on the vehicles: Who owns them? What type of vehicles are they (bus, van, or car)? What is their seating capacity? How many miles does the vehicle have on it? What year is it? Is it equipped with a two-way radio? Does it have a lift or a ramp for wheelchair access? What is it used for? Are there any real or perceived restrictions on its use by a funding source?

Accessibility for individuals with disabilities must be addressed when locating vehicles. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), equivalent transportation service must be provided for people with disabilities. For more details on this legislation, see CTAP's Making Community Transportation Accessible: A Planning and Implementation Handbook.

Another factor when analyzing vehicle options is the odometer reading. Along with the year of the vehicle, the mileage will give you a better idea of the useful life of that vehicle. Any additional maintenance information on the vehicle is helpful in determining what role it will play in a coordinated system. Poorly maintained vehicles may not be worthy of consideration.

Now you are ready to complete Worksheet A: Vehicle Inventory to determine exactly what your potential vehicle resources might be.

Funding Resources

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide much of the federal funding for transportation services. Though your tribe may not have specific funding for public transportation, some tribal services may be receiving federal funds that can be used in part for access to services. Find out what tribal programs are receiving HHS, FTA or other federal funds.

Use Worksheet B: Identifying Transportation Funding Sources to help you list the most common funding sources. Keep in mind that coordinating these funding resources could help you leverage additional dollars. On this worksheet, identify current funding from all tribal programs that you think might be used for public or human services transportation. If you know the amount, complete the last column on the Worksheet.

Identifying Additional Resources

You might be surprised to find that many people around you have some experience or expertise in transportation. In addition to transportation planners, you may have people who have operated transportation services to clinics, hospitals, aging programs, day care centers, sheltered workshops, rehabilitation programs, and educational institutions.

Look around for experienced mechanics and people with some knowledge of two-way radio communications. In addition, you'll want to identify someone who is an experienced grant or proposal writer. Look at all the resources available to you and use Worksheet C: Identifying  Human and Agency Resources to start identifying them. Some of these people may not be transit experts, but their experience can be an important resource for you.

As you complete Worksheet D: Vehicle Usage and Availability you will develop a list of people who can help you. This group will be an integral part in the development of the transit service. By involving various agencies, a joint commitment can build a better life for tribal members by linking them to vital services, education, and employment.

Putting It All Together

Now that you have completed the three basic worksheets, you can begin to look at possible joint use of vehicles, identify funding that may be available to leverage other funding, and gauge the kinds of experience and expertise available from other tribal members and agencies or programs.

Coordination is not always easy. Turf issues often keep people and agencies from joining forces. In addition, many programs believe that their equipment or funding can only be used for their clients. This is rarely true. The CTAP Hotline can be an excellent resource as you work toward better coordination of transportation resources. Trained information specialists will answer your questions, provide you with technical assistance and training materials, and give you guidance as you work to meet your tribe's transportation and mobility goals.

Once coordinating agencies have been identified, the vehicle usage must be determined. Vehicles may be in use at specific times during the day but then sit idle for the rest of the day. For example, Head Start programs usually operate their vehicles in the morning for two hours, around noon for two hours and in the afternoon for two hours. As a result, there are time slots when the vehicle could be used be available for other uses.

Use Worksheet D: Vehicle Usage and Availability to track all the agencies whose vehicles you wish to use. With this chart complete, you will be able to work out arrangements for a full day of vehicle usage.

If you are interested in additional methods of coordinating transportation services, CTAP has a training module, Coordinating Community Transportation Service: A Planning and Implementation Handbook, which is available through the CTAP Hotline. This module includes information on start-up, planning, barriers, design, policy, and more.


Transportation is a critical resource in Indian Country, particularly for those who do not drive or own an automobile. Good planning and a basic knowledge of potential transit resources is key to ensuring that all tribal members have access to jobs, health care, human services programs and educational and recreational activities. Coordinating with other tribal entities can help you stretch your resources and get others invested in your transportation initiative.

Components of Community Transportation Assistance Project

This technical assistance brief is sponsored by the Community Transportation Assistance Project (CTAP), funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and operated by the Community Transportation Association of America. Components of CTAP include:

  • CTAP Hotline: This toll-free transit assistance hotline provides one-stop shopping for tribal entities wanting to start a new transit system or enhance their existing one. Friendly information specialists will help you identify problem areas and recommend appropriate assistance to help you reach your goals.
  • National Transit Resource Center: The Community Transportation Resource Center has a collection of more than 15,000 publications, videos, and training materials, many of which are available free of charge.
  • Technical Assistance Peer Network: The CTAP certified peer network offers help through a nationwide pool of transportation peers who have expertise in specific areas. Peers can provide assistance to you through telephone calls, conference presentations, and on-site visits.
  • Training: CTAP has produced two training modules, Coordinating Community Transportation Services and Making Community Transportation Accessible. CTAP also offers training on planning and implementing coordinated, accessible transportation.


Keywords:Transportation services

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: March 12, 2018