June 17, 2019
Thinking “outside the box” when it comes to public transportation issues can be difficult and frustrating. The plans of Transit Authorities I have read are not without their creativity and imagination. Traditionally, however, dealing with transportation needs means discounting ticket costs, designing routes that go to employment centers, and increasing frequency during high traffic times. Dial-a-Rides are popular, but limited and Uber-type services come with some systemic problems. Most urban transportation systems rely on larger buses, although the use of vans and smaller buses is almost always a part of their service. As with all public services, the goal is to make the most of the resources available. It is never enough.
There are about three dozen websites dealing with urban and rural public transportation issues. One in particular puts the issue of dependency upon public transportation squarely in the center of concerns about alleviating poverty.
The National Association for State Community Services Programs, in a white paper entitled “The Stranded Poor,” makes the point that “access to affordable transportation for low-income workers, elderly rural residents, and children makes the trip to work, school, and medical appointments possible” when purchasing and operating a private car would be one burden too many. In 2000, transportation costs accounted for 36 cents out of every dollar spent in the poorest fifth of American households, almost all of it spent on “purchasing, operating, and maintaining their cars.” That alone underscores the importance of having affordable and dependable public transportation, over and above predatory lending and purchasing practices.
It’s even more onerous in rural areas. Forty percent of those who live in rural areas have no public transportation at all, according to the NASCSP.
The point is, as expressed by John Railey, Executive Director of The Partnership for Prosperity, the new anti-poverty program initiated by Mayor Allen Joines this year, “Public transportation cuts across every issue related to alleviating poverty.” Perhaps that’s why the first work session and forum sponsored by the Partnership on June 20th is “Transportation and Poverty Alleviation.” Moreover, it is a recognition that until people can get to work on time, accept promotions that don’t require spending four hours on a bus, and can tend to the errands of ordinary life more conveniently, it will be just that more difficult to break the cycle of poverty.
Community action agencies and Transit Authorities in various states are responding to the need to improve public transportation services and what follows are just five NASCSP case histories that demonstrate a bit out of the box thinking.
In Missouri, a not-for-profit organization began accepting automobile donations from local businesses and individuals. Donated money pays the title fee and the insurance premium for the first month. It isn’t a freebie; recipients are expected to be able to fit operation and maintenance into their monthly budget.
In the Youngstown area of Ohio, the Youngstown Area Community Action Council sponsors the Dial-a-Ride Transportation Services program, which offers free transportation to elderly, physically challenged, and low-income residents of Mahoning County. Priority is given to the elderly and trips are provided to all medical and social service appointments. Limited grocery shopping is also available for the elderly and physically challenged, which relieves younger family members from having to either take off work or to fit providing help to their elders into their after-work schedule.
In Oklahoma, in response to private companies removing service routes, the local Community Action program established the Little Dixie Transit with federal funds, starting with one driver and one van. Today, the service has a fleet of 90 vans with 70 employees, averages 250,000 trips a year and provides clients travelling to airports, hospitals, or even a “friend’s house.” The business model in Oklahoma applies most to rural areas, but can be applied to urban areas.
Two other Oklahoma initiatives are intended to support those who need transportation to their places of employment and for those who are job-hunting. The first is the “Road to Work” program, which designs routes, hours, and days “to meet the employment needs of workers and employers,” and the other is The Family Area Network Transit, which provides transportation to job training and other allowable work activities which are intended to move welfare recipients into the workforce.
In Michigan, Macomb County Community Services Agency has established a transportation program solely for low income residents who need transportation to essential medical appointments.
Although most of the Community Services Programs cited in their white paper are rural-oriented, the principles apply universally. They include shared funding with state, federal and local taxation and a robust private donor base, a focus on providing health care services and “getting to or finding employment,” and assistance with performing essential shopping. The emphasis is on private-public participation and an ancillary benefit is offering employment and/or business opportunities to the client group.
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