Shuttles Go Where the Jobs Are
Last summer, Jackie Turner looked for a new job after a temporary stint with the Census Bureau. But the best-paying jobs were in the suburbs, 30 miles from her Baltimore neighborhood. Without a car and no public bus service, she figured those slots weren't options.
“I thought, there are a lot of nice-paying jobs, but how am I going to get there?” she says.
Then she learned about a free shuttle service to outlying Howard County and got a job with Home Depot in Columbia, Md. Now, Turner walks about seven blocks from the home she's renting in southeast Baltimore to pick up a shuttle to ride about 30 minutes to her $10-an-hour position.
She had briefly considered buying a home near work, but realized it would cost too much. “I want to buy my first home,” she says, “but I don't want it to be $150,000.”
In fact, the median price for homes in Howard County is $175,000. Besides, Turner says, she likes her neighborhood and doesn't want to live in the suburbs.
In 1999, a nonprofit, BWI Partnership, set up the Career Caravan shuttle between Baltimore's inner city and Howard County to address the mismatch between available jobs and workers like Turner.
“The inner-city workers couldn't find jobs in the city, and Howard County had all these jobs but couldn't find workers,” says Janice Butler, transportation coordinator for BWI Partnership. About 120 workers use the free service to travel to 25 Howard County businesses from light manufacturing to call centers. One of the participating companies, Bagel Bin stores, had previously been providing its own private transportation because it had such difficulty finding employees.
The Career Caravan is free to both riders and businesses. It is funded largely by a $640,000 Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant, but it also receives money through state reverse-commute money and private donations that should keep it going for another four years. In fact, the service is expanding to cover the entire city and expects to pick up several hundred more riders, Butler says.
Baltimore is not unique. “We've made these grants throughout the country -- in virtually all the major urbanized areas,” says Doug Birnie, the FTA's job-access coordinator. Some of the funds are used to promote car-pooling or other solutions.
Baltimore's Department of Social Services uses the job shuttle to help women who are looking for jobs get off welfare. When the department canvassed the region for potential jobs, it didn't consider neighboring Howard and Harford counties, where jobs are plentiful, because of the lack of low-cost transportation, says Cindy Theede, assistant contract manager. “We really gave up after a while. There either wasn't transportation when they needed it, or it was too costly.”
Now, with the availability of Career Caravan and a similar service, Bridges to Work, women on welfare will be given the option of taking long-distance jobs. But Theede says the welfare clients may not want those jobs, because they are too far from their children's schools and day care.
Meanwhile, taking its cue from the nonprofit shuttles, Baltimore may start to offer regular public transportation to suburban counties. As for Turner, the caravan has been a godsend, though she sometimes has to wait two hours after her shift for the shuttle to arrive. As soon as she can, she plans to buy a car.