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Working families battling worsening transportation barriers, which drive away employment interest

Alternative options provide temporary relief
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 08, 2021

CLEVELAND — More and more jobs throughout Northeast Ohio are hiring but for many, the struggle of finding applicants remains. While incentives are helping get new hires through the door, getting to and from the job may be the biggest barrier in keeping employees.

“You’re seeing low wages and difficulty keeping that employment when they’re trying to juggle that whole life balance and not having the support systems when they have children,” said Melissa Russoniello, Director of El Bario and Workforce and The Centers for Families and Children. “

According to a recent study out of The Ohio State University, more low-income people were forced to find work further away from their homes during the pandemic and especially during the state shutdown last year, compared to individuals who are better off financially. “Results showed that people living in low-income areas reduced their travel 41% during the lockdown significantly less than the 51% reduction found for people living in high-income areas and 49% reduction for those from middle-income neighborhoods.)”

Cornelia Martin, a single mother of one, says without reliable transportation there’s no way she would be able to keep food on the table and take care of her family. Though the reality of using public transportation still has its challenges on her daily routine, STNA job requirements, grocery shopping and other errands are at the mercy of pre-determined schedules.

“There was a job that I had a long time ago where I had to catch three buses in the morning to get to school…I had to be up super early in order to make sure I got the bus, I was outside to catch the bus at 7 AM sometimes [and] depending on the weather I had to be out there earlier,” Martin explained. “A lot of women were on the bus first thing in the morning to get to work. They had no choice. It’s like if I don’t go to work, I don’t pay my bills, I don’t feed my children.”

The same plight is forced on countless others, but especially among single black women throughout Cuyahoga County. Russoniello says their participation in The Centers’ Paradox Prize program, backed by Fund for Our Economic Future, was marked at 42%.

“The numbers that we’re seeing here in Cleveland are definitely mirroring the national numbers especially black females,” she said.

Russoniello says aside from long commutes and hustle required to rely on public transportation for everything daily, the cost remains one of the biggest barriers since before the pandemic.

“You need to pay to get to work, you need to pay for your children to get to daycare, plus you still have to feed them…I think it just becomes exhausting and you don’t see the benefit of employment at that point,” she said. “We have been able to reduce that travel expense for a lot of our students, but it really hasn’t solved that time issue.”

Through the Paradox Prize, The Centers were able to provide monthly Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) bus passes. The program also helped bring about another alternative option using an electric vehicle by a local company, SWAY.

“We believe low and moderate-income drivers, in particular, can really benefit from electric vehicle technologies,” said Michael Peters, SWAY CEO.

Peters explained electric vehicles are low-efficient. He says their cars generally cost about $25,000.

“It’s cheaper to operate so cheaper per mile, better for maintenance, more resilient you know, more reliable for everyone," Peters said.

The option is a small first step in solving a long-term problem, which Russoniello says is currently being assessed by RTA. Though the problem requires more employers better understanding and accommodating of the day-to-day those like Martin take on to survive.

“It’s not worth it unless the pay can cover all those expenses and make that time worth it,” said Russoniello.

While their Paradox Prize program has ended, Russoniello says bus passes are still available for eligible clients, though access is limited, to utilize their electric car until January. To sign up and for more information about other programs or resources available, click here.