How Localized Mass Transit Can Change LivesJuly 14, 2021
Vehicles for Change (VFC) has officially been awarding cars to working families for 22 years. With over 7,000 vehicles awarded, we’ve touched the lives of more than 24,000 families. VFC recipients report increasing their wages, getting that next great job, moving into better neighborhoods, and finding more time to make precious memories with their families. A car can change someone’s life, but that’s just one person, one family. While VFC works to get everyone deserving of a car on the road, we need to implement innovative programs to impact the thousands of families in our region locked in poverty due to the lack of transportation.
At VFC’s Transportation Symposium this past June, I had the opportunity to connect with experts in the field of equitable transportation and explore programs that are connecting people to their workplaces without leaving them to navigate more time-consuming modes of transportation. These programs include First Step Staffing’s vanpool program with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the subsidized ride-share programs of Washington D.C. and Pinellas County, Florida, and the Commute Trip Reduction requirements of Washington State.
First Step Staffing’s and Enterprise Rent-A-Car
We were honored to be joined by Amelia Nickerson, CEO of First Step Staffing. First Step Staffing is a nonprofit staffing agency working to eliminate employment barriers to create pathways out of poverty. The most common barrier to employment their clients face is transportation. To address this, the organization has partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to implement vanpooling programs throughout the country. In the First Step Staffing’s serviceable areas, volunteer drivers travel a preapproved route, stopping to pick up passengers for their workday commutes. When speaking with Ms. Nickerson, we discussed the cost of this program and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this program only costs First Step Staffing $1,400 – $1,500 in each state, monthly. That includes the van, the insurance, and a gas card in some cases. In short, this incredible program helps people reach employment effectively and affordably.
Subsidized Ride-Share Programs
Brian O’Malley of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance also joined our Symposium panel to discuss transportation solutions across the country. Among the programs he shared were the After-Hours Commuter Service Program implemented by the Washington D.C. Metro and Pinellas County, Florida’s Direct Connect. In Washington D.C., registered SmartTrip users who commute to and from work while the Metro is not running can call a Lyft for just $3. Similarly, Pinellas County, Florida’s Direct Connect program offers subsidized Uber rides to residents traveling in low-frequency transit areas. Both programs provide flexibility and safety to those working the graveyard shift.
Washington State’s Commute Trip Reduction
In Washington State, employers with 100 or more full-time team members are required to develop and manage their own worker transportation programs. Companies in Washington have a great deal of flexibility in developing these programs. Some choose to offer cash incentives to employees who are not driving to work, some add fees to their parking lots, and some offer mortgage assistance to people who move closer to work. But, most companies in Washington State choose the same option, vanpools like those implemented by First Step Staffing. To incentivize employers to implement these programs, Washington State issues each company a tax credit. What’s more, these tax credits are surprisingly affordable. Ensuring accessible transportation to the 550,000 workers using these services only costs the state $3 million a year. The benefit to employers and employees cannot be understated; the economic stability this program provides is incentive enough to implement similar requirements in any state.
Have you noticed what each of these programs have in common? They’re local, and they focus on getting as many people to work as possible without forcing everyone without a car to use public transportation. These programs address workers’ individual and immediate needs in their community or company, allowing greater freedom to commuters. While I know that awarding a subsidized car to a family is a one-way ticket out of generational poverty, I also know that getting those families behind the wheel will take time. As we work towards a future in which transportation is now longer a barrier to employment and a better life for all families either through greater public transportation options and walkable cities we must find a more reasonable solution. I believe that means developing a comprehensive plan that will include a portion of each of the best practices, van pool, ride share, bike ownership and paths, better public transportation and car ownership. VFC will continue to advocate and build toward this solution.