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A playbook for recovery from the ‘no car, no job; no job, no car’ paradox

Following the launch of the Paradox Prize in 2019 to find solutions to Northeast Ohio’s ‘no car, no job; no job, no car’ paradox, FundNEO’s Dominic Mathew details the transport connectivity projects and pilots that are being launched as a result of the prize’s funding.

Passengers coming off Akron METRO's FlexRide service

Akron METRO's FlexRide vans (Credit: Akron METRO RTA)

No car, no job. No job, no car. This transportation paradox has had a crippling impact on the economic opportunities of Northeast Ohio’s carless residents. The Fund for Our Economic Future, a consortium of philanthropic, civic and business entities aligned toward equitable growth and opportunity for an 18-county region, launched The Paradox Prize in June 2019 to unearth innovative, collaborative solutions to this paradox.

In a collective effort to close the economic divide by race and place, the Fund partnered with the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Greater Cleveland Partnership, The Lozick Family Foundation, Cuyahoga County, The Cleveland Foundation, and DriveOhio to pool $1 million to support up to 10 transportation innovation pilots over three years.

The public competition sought big ideas to help residents stranded economically by their geography access well-paying jobs, and improve the ability for area businesses to fill thousands of open jobs across the region.

In part one of this article series, I detailed the no-growth sprawl that has characterized the region and many similar U.S. Midwest metros over the past several decades. Jobs are farther away from where people live, leaving much of the region’s workforce – particularly within communities of color – with a seemingly insurmountable transportation paradox.

We received 141 Paradox Prize applications from 12 counties that included testing technology solutions to access mobility, creating new workforce and transportation agency partnerships, and aggregating resources in the community to meet demand. The regional Advisory and Selection Committee comprising Northeast Ohio leaders in transportation, workforce development, philanthropy and business selected eight winners and has awarded $666,000 in prize money so far. Awards ranged from $20,000 to $100,000, depending on the needs, scale and potential impact of each project.

 Three broad themes have emerged around the initiatives that have been awarded support:

  1. Transportation as a central element of workforce sector partnerships
  2. Rethinking the economics of transportation at the workplace
  3. Rural matter – transportation isn’t just an urban phenomenon.

Below is a roundup of the pilots, divided into the above themes.

Transportation as a central element of workforce sector partnerships

Sector partnerships are a proven tool to connect industry-specific employers with stakeholders to develop and implement skills-based training aimed at fostering growth and increased competitiveness. Though job access plays a crucial role in the success of these partnerships, few employers take proactive measures to address the issue, limiting recruitment and retention. The pilots below test a framework in which transportation providers work with workforce and community intermediaries to open access to well-paying jobs through targeted mobility solutions.

Get to Work Now (Cuyahoga County, Ohio)

This is a collaboration in an urban county between clergy groups, The Cleveland Clergy Coalition and the American Association of Clergy and Employers, and a manufacturing coalition of small and medium companies, Manufacturing Works, that connects predominantly black neighborhoods with job hubs using church vans that sit idle throughout the week. The project team provides job readiness and placement assistance along with subsidised door-to-door pick-up and drop-off services to create a pipeline of eligible and trained workers to enter the workforce system while removing transportation barriers.

The pilot aims to demonstrate the critical role of transportation in a workforce sector partnership and the business case to aggregate community resources to address gaps in the system.

The active, one-year pilot is serving 26 users – all people of color – and six employers. A subset of these employers is providing this as an employee benefit, buoyed by the success of this TaaS (Transportation-as-a-Service) model on employee recruitment and retention.

FlexRide (Summit County, Ohio)

The Akron METRO Regional Transit Authority and regional workforce development agency ConxusNEO   collaborated to create a two-year FlexRide program, a door-to-door, on-demand service connecting workers to job hubs in northern Summit County that will save employers thousands of dollars in reduced turnover and lost down-time, while opening up new job possibilities for users to access well-paying jobs.  

In testament to the power of catalysing innovative ideas in the region, the project team was able to leverage the Paradox Prize award to secure additional grant funding of up to $2 million from state and federal transportation agencies. The long-term goal for this pilot is to establish a framework for companies to tap into a qualified and geographically proximate talent pool and contribute toward creating fixed transit routes based on demand established during the pilot.

Stark Strong Neighborhoods (Stark County, Ohio)

Strengthening Stark, a countywide economic growth and sustainability collaborative, and Stark Area Regional Transit Authority will operate a one-year pilot designed to connect local workers with wraparound services, job training and job placement using an express bus service matched to employer shifts in the job hubs of Stark County. We know that in addition to transportation, reliable and affordable childcare and housing remain top challenges for clients looking to access jobs. This pilot tests a framework of embedding transit services with workforce development and wraparound providers.

Career Access Navigation (Cuyahoga County)

The Centers for Families and Children, a health and human services agency, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Ohio’s largest public transit agency, will test a multipronged approach to connect participants in workforce development programmes to gainful employment. The programme will optimise existing transit routes to job hubs, test the potential for a new fare structure and fare capping mechanism in the transit system, operate underutilised transportation resources from the Centers through the transit agency and explore the effects of alternative transportation through an electric car-sharing system focused on underserved populations. This year-long pilot will ultimately look to establish a new model for transit agencies to partner with workforce organisations.

Find out more

Read the first part of this article here to discover the economic and mobility challenges that face Northeast Ohio, and why the Paradox Prize is necessary.

Rethinking transportation economics at the workplace

A key objective of the Paradox Prize is to establish the business case for private employers and institutions to recognise the benefit that workforce mobility solutions can have on their bottom lines through reduced turnover, fewer training or staffing agency costs, and a more diverse pool of candidates. For a long time, Northeast Ohio’s no growth-sprawl led employers to move further away from the urban cores. Along with declining investment in transit, research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland shows that the largest share of Northeast Ohio’s workforce – workers with only high school diplomas – experience the lowest levels of job access1.

These pilots look to rethink the effects of a transportation benefit on job productivity, employee retention and equity, while ensuring that employers view workforce mobility as a way to attract a qualified candidate pool and equitable workplace.

SHARE and Express Employment (Cuyahoga County, Ohio)

SHARE, a microtransit company, will partner with Express Employment Professionals, a workforce staffing agency, to include mobility services for job seekers in its staffing agency package offered to employers. Staffing and employment agencies provide direct placements tailored to the employer’s demands, with incentives based on performance and how long clients stay on the job. This six-month pilot looks to establish the economics of introducing transportation benefits in this relationship and the outcome of pairing a workforce intermediary with an employment provider in an economically distressed area.

Offering Transit Benefits and Choices

A promising potential ninth pilot, whose application during Round 3 of the Paradox Prize was temporarily postponed due to COVID-19, would see one of the region’s large employers test how an employee transit subsidy benefit might change commuter behavior. Often, employers in the region provide parking benefits without any corresponding transit benefits. This initiative would seek to establish the business case that investment in alternative transportation benefits increases the talent pool, helps workforce development goals, and leads to positive outcomes in the social determinants of health.

Rural matters – transportation isn’t just an urban phenomenon

The third theme emerging among the Paradox Prize pilot projects improves and aggregates existing transportation resources in rural regions of Northeast Ohio to meet the needs of the workforce and their employers. These pilots facilitate innovation within agencies serving a more rural population, testing new services and interventions that can optimise efficiency for resource-stretched transit agencies and help workers sustain employment in areas with limited transit routes.

Rural Mobility Solutions (Wayne County, Ohio)

This one-year pilot led by a community action agency, Community Action Wayne/Medina, implements a dynamic routing software to aggregate private and city-owned transportation resources in this primarily rural county with no public transit system. The resulting smart-farecard based, on-demand van-pooling system enables multiple users with differing origins and destinations to access an affordable, efficient service connecting them with jobs. Community Action’s role in the pilot is providing valuable information on how the federal and state assistance programme can provide touchpoints with transportation. For example, the pilot team is working with the local Job and Family Services agency to enroll carless riders receiving gas cards from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, to transfer the value to passes in this pilot.

With 42 active users, a quarter of them women, Rural Mobility Solutions is already serving as a foundation for systemic improvement and collaboration. Based on current demand and requests, Wayne County was awarded a state grant to carry out a transportation feasibility study and partner with a neighboring regional transit authority to introduce a fixed route between job hubs in both counties.

Lake Access (Lake County, Ohio)

Laketran Paradoc Prize-funded on-demand pilot van

Laketran’s vans that are used for the Lake Access pilot (Credit: Laketran)

Laketran, Lake County’s public transit agency, is implementing a one-year on-demand transportation service matching employer shifts from underserved areas to high-paying manufacturing jobs within the county. This collaborative partnership between employers, public officials and economic development agencies includes a component that focuses on the youth workforce, connecting students with an aviation company’s internship programme. Lake Access’s long-term goal is to estimate demand along industrial park corridors and eventually have employers aggregate, match contributions for transportation passes and adjust shift times to reflect fixed-route timings.

Let’s Get to Work Lorain County (Lorain County, Ohio)

Eleven agencies led by the City of Oberlin and supported by Lorain County Transit, Catholic Charities, Oberlin College and Sway, partnered to provide 24/7 work transportation solutions within the county’s footprint, through expanded public transit coverage and service hours, and access to electric car-sharing. The collaboration – which includes government, social service agencies, transit, employers, and educational institutions – will optimise services for residents’ needs to access workforce training and jobs, among other activities, in a rural county with limited public transit. The long-term outcome to kickstart a robust transit system in the county is tied with the City of Oberlin’s mission to achieve carbon neutrality by encouraging public transit and alternative transportation.

Our path forward

Among the three currently operational pilots, there are about 70 active riders, all of whom report lower commute costs and times. Half of riders are persons of color and 25 percent are women. The pilots serve 15 employers, with seven reporting increased retention in participating users.

These are early days in the pilots, and with the onset of COVID-19, we are witnessing a palpable shift in how public and shared transportation are viewed and funded. The pandemic led to important changes in the nature of work, where people live and how they interact with each other. Nevertheless, 2.8 million essential workers relied on public transit to get to work during the past few months, most of them people of color. As transit agencies limp back to a semblance of normalcy and regions strive for economic recovery, workers without private modes of transportation will need innovative, responsive mobility solutions.

What we take from these pilots will be key to reimagining both the future of work and of workforce mobility. As we move ahead with the Paradox Prize, under the guidance of our regional advisory and selection committee, these are the lessons we will reiterate, directing remaining resources towards the scalability, sustainability and amplification of best practices arising from the pilots.

References

  1. Barkley, B. (2015, November 23). A Long Ride to Work: Job Access and Public Transportation in Northeast Ohio. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.clevelandfed.org/newsroom-and-events/publications/a-look-behind-the-numbers/albtn-20151123-a-long-ride-to-work-job-access-and-public-transportation-in-northeast-ohio.aspx

Biography

Dominic Mathew is an architect-planner who works on addressing mobility and job-access challenges in Northeast Ohio with an economic development collaborative, the Fund for Our Economic Future. He manages The Paradox Prize, that invests $1 million workforce mobility pilots and aims to eradicate the transportation paradox of ‘no car, no job; no job, no car’. Previously, he was part of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s (ITDP) India office. He has a Bachelor of Architecture from the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, India and a Master’s in Regional Planning with a focus on Environmental Finance and Impact Investing from Cornell University, Ithaca, USA.

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