METGo! wins CCOA Best Practices Award

METGo!, Mountain Empire Transit’s free on-demand bus service in the Wise-Norton area, has received the 2023 First Place Best Practices Award from the Virginia Commonwealth Council on Aging.

The 24-member CCOA advises the governor and General Assembly on aging-related issues. The award, which includes a $5,500 cash prize, was judged on criteria including community impact, potential for replication, innovation, outcomes and promotion of aging in the community.

CCOA member Tina Savla, during comments made before the award presentation at the June 8 Mountain Empire Older Citizens Advisory Council meeting, called METGo! “exemplary, sustainable and groundbreaking.” MEOC operates Mountain Empire Transit.

“We are honored to be recognized by the Commonwealth Council on Aging,” MET Director Mitch Elliott said after the meeting. “A partnership with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation made METGo! possible and allowed us to fill a need for same-day public transportation service in a rural area. The response to METGo! has been amazing since its launch. We hope to expand the service area to other towns in the near future,” he added.

METGo! was chosen from more than 15 competitive nominations for its innovative approach to meet transportation needs for the aging and those living with disabilities in remote areas. METGo! applies the same concept of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to public transit. Riders book their trips using a smartphone app. Within minutes, a METGo! van picks them up and delivers them to their destination, stopping for other riders along the route.

The service, part of a DRPT pilot project, covers about 14 square miles in the Wise-Norton area. Mountain Empire Transit has provided on-demand transportation, which requires passengers to call at least 24 hours in advance to book a trip, for decades. METGo! serves those who need same-day service.

Savla noted that the CCOA’s Best Practices Awards, sponsored by Dominion Energy and AARP, recognize and encourage the replication of pioneering initiatives, particularly those that foster aging in place, livable communities, and advance in home and community-based services.

Savla noted that transportation is a pressing need for older adults across Virginia, not just in providing access to necessities such as healthcare, shopping and employment but to social integration too. METGo! represents how transit has adapted to meet those evolving needs in recent years, she noted.

Savla said METGo!’s tangible results particularly impressed the awards committee. In its inaugural year, METGo! accounted for 39 percent of MET trips across its 1,390-square-mile service area and clocked over 40,000 trips for 8,000 unique riders. More than 26,000 of these trips were for older adults or people living with disabilities. METGo now averages about 200 trips per day.

Savla said the CCOA foresees METGo! becoming a beacon for other rural regions in Virginia and beyond.

Other guests present for the award presentation included representatives of the Virginia Department for the Aging and Rehabilitative Services, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and AARP.