Childhood Poverty: Transit changes needed to improve upward mobility

Childhood Poverty: Transit changes needed to improve upward mobility (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - For many people the biggest challenge in getting to work is getting there on time!

Or making sure to leave early enough to catch the right bus. But there are tens of thousands of jobs in the area where public transportation is not an option. And that can mean the difference between a job and no job. Local 12 News examines the area's public transit challenges, where solutions are not easy to come by.

At Heart House in Aurora, Indiana, a homeless shelter, part of living there is people pitch in. Brandi Lewis has fought substance abuse over the years but when Local 12 met her she was trying to get back on her feet, get a job, and had just put her resume online.

Jobs were plentiful in the warehouses and light manufacturing facilities near the Cincinnati airport in northern Kentucky but people like Lewis, without cars, can't get there. Southeast Indiana does have an Indiana-only transit system. But it's Monday through Friday, daytime only. And nothing to Kentucky or Cincinnati.

Sixty people in a homeless shelter is a small sample. But lack of transit options around the region is a big problem for low income people trying to find jobs and escape poverty. Metro, the southwest Ohio regional transit authority, is the area's biggest bus operator; 16 million rides a year. There are 75,000 jobs in Hamilton County alone that a transit system doesn’t connect people to. The Metro system map is big, it’s pretty impressive. There are about 50 routes, local routes, express routes, and specialized routes which take workers to Kings Island for jobs in the summer. But there’s just as significant area that’s not on the Metro route. Namely, routes to new job locations.

Dwight Ferrell, Metro CEO, said, “50,000 in the health care area and 25,000 in other jobs that we don't connect to. So if we had that unlimited pot of money we'd certainly provide the service that helps people get to work.”

But money is not unlimited. Metro is half funded by a city of Cincinnati earnings tax. The other half from federal and state governments and the fare box. The total: $94 million. Most Metro routes start or end in downtown Cincinnati; the area's biggest job generator. But if downtown is not the destination transit can take time.

Cincinnati's child poverty collaborative said only 59 percent of the region's jobs are transit accessible. Is there a solution? More service requires more public money. But the Metro Moves initiative, a half-cent sales tax increase to dramatically expand bus routes and add light rail in Hamilton County, was crushed at the ballot box in 2002.

One possibility would be employers kick in to help. Amazon helped pay for a tank bus; the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky to get workers from downtown Cincinnati and Covington to the Amazon warehouse near the airport. Once the service caught on, Tank picked up the tab. It was a small example but it worked.

As for Metro there was an ambitious goal of carrying 21 million riders by 2020. The hope is more folks will ride generating more revenue which means new service can be added. But it's a slow process. Getting out of poverty can require people to change. As of now, sometimes change buses downtown.

Metro is also considering route and schedule changes to better utilize existing buses. However, there is a lot of red ink looming in the future. That could mean a tax hike request on the ballot in 2017. If that happens and it fails it might lead to service cuts and a fare increase.

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