Chapter 5.2: Region's Definition of Unmet Needs
By identifying the unmet needs of the region, stakeholders can ascertain the services that are most appropriate and useful to obtaining sustainable employment. In light of a region's unmet needs, planners must consider an array of service alternatives to accommodate varying transportation needs of urban, suburban and rural areas. Alternatives include fixed route service, demand-responsive service, inter-generational paratransit, employer-based transit services, and combinations of service types.
Urban areas offer a variety of public transportation services especially to the downtown and near downtown destinations. In these areas, it may be possible to accommodate needs through simple changes in service. By extending service hours and expanding service areas, fixed route systems can implement service rather quickly and at a reasonable marginal cost. These services tend to cater specifically to inner-city and inner-suburb markets from inner-city residential areas. The challenge is providing service from the city to jobs in the suburbs. Reverse commute service has become an increasingly popular approach to addressing this market challenge.
Rapid job growth in the suburbs offers many possible job opportunities for welfare to work households in the inner sections of the central city. Existing transportation services in suburban areas tend to focus on moving people from suburb to suburb with potential childcare stops or other trip needs along the way. For these services to be effective, riders must share common origins and destinations. Multiple day care stops can result in travel times that make the service unattractive and unused.
Existing transportation services in rural areas are more limited than urban or suburban areas. Developing transportation initiatives to serve these areas can be challenging. The journey to work for individuals in rural areas can include stops along the way, and the travel distance is generally greater. In addition, many rural and suburban communities provide subsidized housing in areas with little or no public transportation services. Land is typically more affordable in these areas and more appealing to developers. Planning for transportation to these areas is often an afterthought.
In planning for improved access to employment opportunities, planners should focus on the following:
- Immediate needs of the target population, such as moving a household from welfare to work;
- Maintenance needs of the target population, such as keeping the household from slipping from work back into poverty or welfare;
- Long-term economic sustainability of the target population, such as allowing for job advancement and continuing improvement in standard of living.
Immediate Needs - Proximity of Jobs to Residences, Frequency of Service, Cost of Service
Proximity - For the past two decades, job creation in most regions of the country has occurred in dispersed suburban or exurban areas. Dispersed destinations are more difficult to reach from inner-city homes and from suburban and rural households without access to an automobile. Planning to meet the needs of individuals who do not have automobile access may require a variety of non-traditional transportation options.
Service Frequency - Individuals needing transit service for job access must often drop off a child at childcare on the way. Some parents may not be able to leave for work until the child has been safely picked up for school. The frequency of service may determine whether fixed route service meets the individual's needs. Greater frequency enables individuals to utilize fixed route service for a wider variety of trip purposes such as health care, school or training, shopping and childcare.
Service Cost - The majority of the target population cannot initially afford to purchase transportation services. Programs designed to subsidize bus passes, provide vouchers, reimburse expenses or advance funds for auto ownership costs, can assist individuals until they can afford an automobile or find a better alternative.
An even tougher challenge to transportation service alternatives is to accommodate second and third shift schedules. Public transportation generally does not operate in the late evening or early morning hours, which results in limited service for second and third shift end/start times.
Involving employers to assist with shuttle or vanpool service is one approach to paying for additional resources, though employer interest may vary considerably.
Maintenance Needs - Temporary/Seasonal Jobs, Job Placement, Job Retention
Temporary/Seasonal Jobs - Employers in some industries require temporary and seasonal employees. Job locations for the target population may change as individuals move from an initial, often part-time or seasonal position, to another seasonal position, or to a full-time job.
Some individuals may be participating in education or training while working part-time or looking for a job. Childcare locations and schedules can also conflict, adding complications to the issue of transportation planning. Identifying useful ways to address these issues is critical in helping individuals move through the various phases toward economic independence.
Job Retention - Transportation initiatives must consider needs beyond the interview or the first day of employment. Initiatives should be flexible, addressing the reality of working parents who depend on public transportation for trips to work and childcare. Transportation options should provide access for childcare and responsiveness to childcare or school emergencies. Meeting these needs will help transit-dependent people retain their jobs.
Low-income households who own a car often use public transportation intermittently for job retention. The 1995 National Transportation Survey revealed that low-income households' cars are significantly older and less reliable than other households. Surveys in some regions of the country have noted that the single largest barrier for working families to stay employed is keeping an older car in working condition. Individuals in the target population who are vehicle owners generally own cars in need of repair and lack insurance or proper registration. Loan programs designed to allow working households to repair a vehicle or acquire insurance or registration may be a useful and efficient alternative.
Programs assisting the target population to purchase or repair an automobile are not eligible for funding under the JARC program. Programs supporting forms of mass transportation such as carpooling, shared-ride and special paratransit services are eligible. Activities such as funding transit passes, construction of childcare centers and employment support facilities are not eligible for JARC funding, though they are eligible for grants under TANF and WtW programs.
Involvement from employers and/or employer groups is imperative to identifying job-retention issues. Employer involvement can help facilitate how employers might play a role in the provision of services to support job-retention efforts. Employers may be eligible to receive DOL funds to support transportation programs assisting low-income populations. Engaging them in job access planning efforts can increase awareness of funding opportunities, assist them in maximizing the use of those funds, and develop job-retention initiatives that accurately address the needs of low-income individuals.
Employers and employer groups may wish to consult the Welfare to Work Partnership for information on how to find, recruit, train, hire and retain former members of the target population. The Partnership is a national, non-profit organization created to encourage and assist businesses with hiring individuals from public assistance without displacing current workers. Other functions of the Partnership include building a network of businesses who have experience hiring former welfare recipients and/or have pledged to hire at least one person from welfare. The existing network consists of approximately 10,000 businesses and is a valuable source of information on first-hand experiences with employing members of the target population. For more information, the Partnership web site is located at http://www.welfaretowork.org.
Long-Term Economic Sustainability - Job Advancement
Transportation options must consider the long-range prospects of employment. If the only means of moving up the job ladder to higher wages and greater economic security is to move from one job to another, transportation must provide this flexibility. Successful planning must consider the choices and options available as people advance.
Several tools can help planners define unmet transportation needs. This section describes several processes to identify unmet needs, including the following:
- Analytical GIS tools
- Defining Employers
- Defining Employees