Download Adobe© Reader™.

Peer Exchanges, Planning for a Better Tomorrow, Transportation Planning Capacity Building

Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program

— Peer Exchange Report —

Federal Lands Highway and Tribal Governments
Peer Workshop

National Tribal Roads Conference Peer Workshop
for Tribal Transit Service Development

Location: Albuquerque, NM
March 2, 2004
Workshop Host Agency:    
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
FHWA Offices of Federal Lands Highway
Workshop Participants: FHWA
FHWA Resource Center
Federal Lands Highway
Bad River Tribe
Stillagaumish Tribe
Comanche Nation, Oklahoma
Sitka Tribe of Alaska
Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma
Grand Portage Chippewa Tribe
Hopi Tribe
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
Gila River Indian Community
Community Transportation Association of America

I. Summary

The following report summarizes the results of a Peer Workshop held through the Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Program, which is jointly sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The FHWA Offices of Federal Lands Highway (FLH) and FHWA hosted a Peer-to-Peer workshop to provide a forum in which representatives from tribal governments of varying size could share insights learned during the development of transit services for their respective communities.

The Peer Workshop was designed to complement and reinforce the community transit information discussed during the FLH workshop on Transit Planning. Both of these presentations were part of a three-day series of Transit Breakout Sessions that were part of the 6th Annual National Tribal Transportation Conference. During the Transit Breakout Sessions, presenters focused on how existing resources and partnerships might be used to plan, develop, tailor, and eventually fully implement a transit system that meets differing tribes’ unique needs.

Representatives from the Stillaguamish (Washington), Sitka (Alaska), and Comanche (Oklahoma) tribes gave presentations. All three tribes participate in transit systems by either operating their own or collaborating with other neighboring transit systems. These firsthand accounts of transit implementation experiences were intended to provide Peer Workshop attendees with ideas as to how obstacles to transit service creation and planning might be overcome. By raising the general level of transit expertise among tribal transportation professionals, tribal governments will become better equipped to develop their own innovative approaches to tribal transit systems.

Tim Penney, the Native American Coordinator for FHWA, and Robin Mayhew, Community Planner with FHWA, jointly facilitated the Peer Workshop. David Frey with the Northwest Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP) and Alaska TTAP was the primary organizer for the three-day Transit Breakout Sessions. Cynthia Hatley and Butch Wlaschin, FLH, both made presentations during the FLH workshop. Peer-Workshop participants included transportation professionals from FHWA, FHWA Resource Center, FLH, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Comanche Indian Tribe, the Stillaguamish Tribe, Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes (Oklahoma), the Grand Portage Chippewa Tribe (Minnesota), the Hopi Tribe (Arizona), the Potawatomi Tribe (Kansas), and the Community Transportation Association of America. The Peer Workshop was held on March 2, 2004 in Albuquerque, NM.

II. Background

At the 6th Annual National Tribal Transportation Conference, which is organized by the Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP), attendees are given the opportunity to meet transportation and safety leaders as well as their counterparts from other tribal areas around the country. Through both formal and informal discussion and training, these conferences are offered to provide tribal transportation professionals a chance to exchange experiences, ideas, best practices, and lessons learned in various transportation areas. During the 2004 Conference, specific topic areas included transportation planning, safety, engineering, operations, and elected officials. Because many tribes recently have expressed interest in transit development, a transit-focused track was also offered for the first time at the Conference.

Transit is an emerging issue on tribal lands. Some tribal governments are operating transit systems, while many others are beginning to determine ways in which they might plan for and develop a community transportation system. Public transit service in small communities is often tailored to reflect the specific needs of a community. For this reason, many tribal governments are looking beyond a “one-size-fits-all” approach to transit planning and are instead focusing on transit opportunities that match community requests and requirements.

As part of the Transit Track, the Peer Workshop session was held to provide tribal transportation professionals real-world examples of how a few tribes have developed unique transit systems that correspond to local needs. The sessions presented examples that were intended to help tribal transportation professionals learn about the transit challenges and experiences of a small- (Stillaguamish Tribe), medium- (Sitka Tribe of Alaska), and large-sized tribe (Comanche Tribe), respectively. By doing so, tribes facing similar transit issues might identify next steps and innovative approaches to implementing their own transit system. Specific aims included:

  • Determine what questions need to be asked;
  • Develop a process to ask these questions;
  • Hear stories from tribes with existing transit systems in order to help avoid learning by accident in the future;
  • Encourage partnering;
  • Create an understanding that each tribe can have unique transit solutions based on existing needs and resources.

III. Perspectives and Issues

The Peer Workshop was comprised of three tribes giving presentations on their communities’ respective transit system. Along with general background, each Tribe illuminated the obstacles, solutions, and benefits that have been associated with their transit development process. The presentations are summarized below.

1. The Community Ride
Camille Ferguson, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is located on Baranof Island and parts of Chichigof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska. The islands are only accessible by air and water and is predominantly a community prospering from the fishing and tourism industries. The community is comprised of 9,000 residents, 3,105 of whom are members of the Sitka Tribe. On the island, there are 14 miles of highway, 30 miles of city streets, and 33,000 registered vehicles. Weather on the island can be harsh and is often the driving force behind the population’s transportation decisions.

In 1994, Sitka Tribal Enterprises (STE) entered the cultural tourism industry. It was the goal of the group to help increase public mobility on the island. STE purchased and began operating two former school buses as part of the “Visitors’ Transit.” Initially, high winter operating costs forced the service to only be provided during the summer. While summer ridership was sustained, revenue was not raised to support winter operation.

In order to continue service and help support this ridership growth, STE had to find funding for winter transportation needs. The tourism staff in the Sitka Tribe first applied for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Grant for transit funding. Their request, however, was denied on the basis that a transportation plan had not been drafted.

In response, STE decided to begin taking the steps necessary to develop a plan. First, the tribe contacted the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) in efforts to receive technical assistance and ideas as to how a transit system might be financed. Based on CTAA guidance, the tribe began organizing the public as well as various community groups to assess the level of interest for public transit. The Sitka tribe found that, in fact, over 20 local organizations were interested in helping to develop the transportation plan.

Once stakeholder interest was assessed, STE facilitated the formation of an interagency steering committee that would investigate both the existing transportation conditions and perceived needs. To make this process of community input gathering more manageable, a consultant was hired. A volunteer position was also created. The role of the position was to keep the steering committee together and focused on reaching project milestones, helping to ensure that project schedules were followed. With carefully mapped out project timelines, the information needed for a thorough transportation plan could be gathered and organized in a clear and manageable manner.

In February 2000, STE and the steering committee completed collection and assessment of information on community needs and problems. Some of data collected included information on existing and required parking, senior citizen access to health care and/or senior centers, and employee access to work. These and other quality of life indicators were then listed in what became the foundation of STE’s transportation plan. Also integral to the plan was a management plan, which outlined all of the opportunities for and sources of transit funding.

Once the transportation plan was written, the Center for Community, with the help of the tribe, reapplied for a rural development grant. In March 2000, this second attempt at approval and funding was successful, and the Center for Community received the USDA grant along with discretionary funding under Title 49 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 5309 (formerly Section 3 of the Federal Transit Act). In 2001, additional funding was received. This time the Center for Community obtained funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (AMHTA), the FTA Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) grant, and the FTA Section 5310 grant enabling eligible organizations to receive funding for equipment for transporting the elderly and/or disabled. At this point, a transit director was hired and the contract for services for what is known now as the “Community Ride” was awarded to the Sitka Tribe and Southeast Senior Services, an organization providing transportation, nutrition, and other support services to the elderly in Southeast Alaska.

AMHTA and FTA 5310 funding continued in 2002, and in 2003 the Center for Community’s Transit Director began exploring additional funding sources. The investigation was fruitful as funding for bus-stop shelters was obtained from the Rasmussen Foundation. A grant under FTA Section 5310 was also provided for the purchase of new buses. In 2004, STE intends to use funding to purchase three new buses and to install shelters at some stops.


During the development of the Community Ride, STE has faced several challenges. These challenges are described below:

  • Initial local government buy-in – Early in the stages of Sitka transit planning, support from the City was difficult to obtain. By assessing and demonstrating stakeholder interest, STE was able to garner buy-in from local government and other partnering agencies.
  • Funding limitations: Initial funding limitations forced STE to begin service with old, often indistinguishable, vehicles. It has been also difficult for STE to find funding for a vehicle garage and to secure funding for future operations of the system.

After overcoming these challenges, the Sitka Tribe has experienced many rewards for transit system operation. The local economic impact has been significant, as now more workers, especially those of low-income, have an efficient and reliable way of access to jobs. Students, non-licensed drivers, visitors, and the elderly and disabled members of the community have also found utility in the Community Ride, using the service to travel to places such as school, health care service, and community event locations. The Sitka Tribe expects their efforts to operate a local transit system to continue to be an endeavor beneficial to the community.

2. The Stillaguamish Tribal Transit System
Casey Stevens, Stillaguamish Tribe

The Stillaguamish Tribe, a tribe that gained Federal tribal recognition in 1976, is a small tribe of 182 members located in Snohomish County, Washington. The largely suburban and rural County, which is bound by the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Puget Sound to the west, has experienced recent growth due to population spillover from the expanding Seattle region. Snohomish County is now the third most populous county in Washington with a population of approximately 628,000. Of this population, over 165,000 people are 17 years old or younger and over 56,000 are aged 65 or higher. These two groups comprise over 35% of the population. Data also indicate that about 6% of the population has a physical disability and between 4%-7% earn wages at the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty level of income.

Currently, several major transit providers exist in Snohomish County, and total annual operating expenses for these providers is approximately $100.3 million, over half of which is local transit. There are 317 fixed-route buses, 65 demand-response/paratransit vehicles, 836 school buses, and 108 Medicad buses. Transit in Snohomish County’s largest city, Everett, has relatively low operating costs, but service is limited to the urban region. These factors have helped necessitate the development of efficient community-based transit opportunities.

In order to help provide transportation to rural areas of Snohomish County, the Stillaguamish Tribe has developed strong collaborative relationships with neighboring businesses, local governments, and transit providers. Close coordination with local stakeholders has enabled the Stillaguamish Tribe to emerge as a leader in the efforts to make the most of limited transportation resources. The Stillaguamish’s partnership development has allowed interagency borders to be reduced, better equipping the Tribe and other transit operators to give the community the services it wants and needs.

One example of the Stillaguamish Tribe’s partnership building is illustrated by an agreement signed before the Tribe had created their strategic transportation plan. Before drafting a strategic plan and developing a transit service, the Stillaguamish Tribe received the support of 18 community leaders when they formally signed a non-contractual “Statement of Executive Sponsorship.” The Snohomish County Special Needs Transportation Coalition (SNOTRAC), a group that aims to coordinate available transportation resources for people unable to drive (due to their age, income level, or a disability), created the document. The Statement of Executive Sponsorship signified that the community was committed to addressing special transportation needs and helped give the Stillaguamish Tribe the opportunity to plant the seeds for receiving future transit funding. The document also provided a framework for how local transportation providers might increase trip efficiency and create transportation cost savings in the County.

With support for special needs transportation service, the Stillaguamish Tribe created a strategic transportation plan and an implementation plan, each of which aided the Tribe in acquiring funding. Washington State’s Agency Council on Coordinated Transportation (ACCT) provided the Snohomish County transit partnership funds for creating transport for special needs populations that combines with existing transportation elements. More recently, covering the years 2003 to 2005, the Stillaguamish Tribe has been given grants from Washington DOT to develop a county-wide application for special needs transportation services that will cover all providers in Snohomish County and to develop and operate an information referral (one-stop call service) call center for special needs transportation services in the county. With the system, callers in need of a ride are directed to where to go to obtain a specific service. In the future, funding sources for these and other services are expected to be 20% Federal, 50% State, 20% County/Transit/Tribal, and 10% private.


A challenge to implementing the Stillaguamish community-based transit system has been the disparity in costs between fixed-route service and demand response service. Demand response service has been a more expensive prospect, averaging as high as $27 per ride as opposed to $3-$5 per ride with fixed route service. The Tribe is working to reduce the cost disparity. It has also been difficult to identify an operation schedule that might best serve riders. The Stillaguamish Tribe is attempting to coordinate with existing services in order to determine the quickest ways passengers might be moved from one point to another.


The successful transit partnership has promoted the establishment of new collaboration efforts, which have allowed the Stillaguamish Tribe to gather resources and to continue to enhance their role in local transit. Interagency collaboration has allowed the Tribe to identify, address, and resolve specific transportation problems faced by tribal members more quickly. For example, the Tribe has helped lead the Community Mobilization Project. Through this interagency project, a community (or an area such as a school district) is asked what transportation service it feels is needed. Planners, with public comment in mind, then attempt to tailor service to meet perceived need. In particular, this effort has helped create a climate in which local transportation agencies can work better with tribal social services. Access has been improved to various social service and health care locations in the community.

3. Comanche Indian Tribe Intermodal Center
George Wallace, Comanche Indian Tribe

The Comanche Indian Tribe recently constructed an intermodal transportation center in Lawton, Oklahoma in partnership with Federal Lands Highway (FLH). To purchase the vehicles that operate from the center, which acts as the hub of the Comanche Tribe’s community-based transit system, the Tribe used funding authorized by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). From the intermodal center, buses run from 6:30 am to 9:00 pm and serve up to a 65-mile radius of mostly small, rural towns.

The groundwork for the transit system and intermodal center was put into position when TEA-21 became effective in 1998. At the time, transportation planners in the Comanche Tribe went to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and asked that funding be provided in order for the Tribe to develop a community-based transit system. ODOT considered the request but denied funding, commenting that two State funded transit services could not operate in the same area; the Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) was already serving the City of Lawton.

In response, the Tribe held public meetings in four community centers in order to determine community desire for a transit system. At the meetings, questionnaires were given to attendees. The responses to survey questions helped transportation planners in the Comanche Tribe establish which populations needed to be served first. Routes were also initially determined based on questionnaire results; during route planning, areas with the highest survey response were made priority locations for service.

Once public comments were compiled, the Tribe wrote a resolution outlining the public’s support for a tribal transit system and sent it to the regional Bureau of Indian Affairs office. The Tribe was granted Section 5311 (title 49, USC) funding and was able to begin developing a transit program. The Tribe then purchased three buses, two of which had a wheelchair lift. Since then, the Comanche Tribe has expanded its fleet (and service) to a total of six buses and two maintenance vehicles.


Obstacles to transit system implementation that the Comanche Tribe have had to overcome include:

  • Funding requirements – After the challenges of receiving initial funding, the Comanche Tribe has continued to face fiscal constraints. The Tribe is exploring ways to acquire additional resources to address all of the desired projects.
  • Questionnaire focus - The demand questionnaire left out questions focusing on the area’s student population. This cohort has turned out to be the largest transit user.
  • Staff size – Currently, only two dispatchers working at the intermodal center take phone calls. With increased staff, the transit system might be better prepared to manage the transportation phone call requests it receives.
  • Service margins – At its extreme, the Tribe’s transit system reaches up to 65 miles one-way. This expansive range of service can be expensive to operate.

The Comanche Tribe’s transit system, which is advertised as a public transit system open to all races, has strengthened public unity. The bus service has been able to provide transportation for people with special needs and better access to locations such as health care treatment facilities and senior centers. Over time, some bus drivers have even developed informal schedules based on experience and knowledge of information such as riders’ various medical appointment programs.

IV. Lessons Learned/Recommendations

At the end of the TPCB Peer Workshop session, attendees held a brief, informal discussion reiterating the lessons learned by the Stillaguamish, Sitka, and Comanche Tribes. Next steps that were mentioned include:

  • Determine who needs a ride - By identifying the groups of individuals who are most likely to use provided transportation, the chance for transit system planning and development success is likely increased.
  • Determine vehicle needs - Estimated ridership and rider needs are key issues to consider when choosing vehicles for a community-based transit system. Transportation planners may also determine what vehicles already exist in the community and which ones could potentially operate as part of the transit system.
  • Develop a transportation plan - Before making a transit system request, community level, multi-modal decisions should be made and documented in a transportation plan.
  • Write letters - Elected officials and funding sources are responsive to constituent letters. Written correspondence to places other than simply the required locations can also help discover funding while garnering general transit system support.
  • Contact nearest FTA Regional Offices – Contact FTA Regional Offices with transit planning, program, and grant questions. Locate your FTA Office on the FTA website:
  • Contact nearest TTAP Centers – The Tribal Technical Assistance Program Centers specialize in assistance to tribal communities and provide names and addresses of transportation resources that work with tribal transportation planning and implementation.
  • Contact FHWA Resource Centers - Staff at FHWA Resource Centers can answer Tribes’ questions on funding, regulations, and transportation planning stages, among others. With Resource Center assistance, Tribes can better prepare for current and future challenges they might encounter.

VI. For More Information

Key Contact(s) for host agency(s):

Cynthia Hatley,Transportation Planner
Federal Lands Highway, FHWA
400 Seventh Street, SW
Room 6311
Washington, DC 20590
Robin M. Mayhew, AICP Community Planner
Federal Highway Administration
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590

VII. Attendees List

Margaret Anguoe
Planning Director
Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes
P.O. Box 38
Concho, OK 73022
Angela Ashmun
Bad River Tribe
P.O. Box 39
Odanah, Wisconsin 54861
Camille Ferguson
Economic Development Director
Sitka Tribe of Alaska
456 Katlian Street
Sitka, Alaska 99835
907-747-3207 (x24)
David Frey
Northwest Coordinator
Northwest and Alaska TTAP,
Eastern Washington University 711 S. Capitol Way, Suite 501
Olympia, WA 98501
James Moline
Gila River Indian Community
P.O. BOX 97
Sacaton, Arizona 85247
Tim Penney
Native American Coordinator,
Federal Highway Administration
400 Seventh Street S.W. Room 3301
Washington, DC 20590
Judy Polingyumptewa
Transit Coordinator
Hopi Tribe
P.O. Box 123
Kykotsmovi, AZ 86039
Benny Potts
Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe
16281 Q Road
Mayetta, Kansas 66509-8970
Valerie Rodman
Transportation Systems Planner
Western Federal Lands Highway,
610 East Fifth Street
Vancouver, Washington 98661-3
Casey Stevens
Transportation Planner
Stillaguamish Tribe
3439 Stoluckquauamish Lane
P.O. Box 277
Arlington, WA 98223
360-652-7362 x234
Fawn Thompson
Intermodal/Statewide Planning Specialist
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Suite 17T26
Atlanta, GA 30303
George Wallace
Comanche Nation
P.O. Box 908
Lawton, OK 73502
Lorraine Wipson
Tribal Councilwoman
Grand Portage Chippewa Tribe
Grand Portage, WI
P.O. Box 428
Butch Wlaschin
Director of the Office of
Program Development,
Federal Lands Highway, FHWA
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20590
Chris Zeilinger
Assistant Director for Governmental Affairs and Training,
Community Transportation Association of America
1341 G St NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20005

back to top

FHWA Home   |  FTA Home   |  Privacy Statement   |  Website Feedback
US DOT Logo  United States Department of Transportation