By: Cheri Perkins(pictured); Becky Allen; Roland Lemos - Executive Director; Transportation Director; Regional Transportation Director, LaGrange County Area Transit; Access Johnson County; Blue River Services Inc.
One measure of a healthy economy is unemployment figures. The lower the number, the better the health of a community, state or nation. The state celebrates when a company announces a major expansion or when a company decides to move jobs to Indiana. Those are, indeed, worth celebrating. Too often, though, getting jobs to Indiana is only part of the challenge.
We also need to get people to the jobs, and in that effort there's often a link missing: transportation. Some people in Indiana can't get to the jobs for which they are qualified because Indiana does not have adequate public transportation.
It's time Indiana strengthened the services that connect people to jobs by increasing its Public Mass Transportation Fund. That Fund, which supports public transportation across the state, has remained at the same level - $42.5 million - for seven years, even though demand for and interest in transit has grown considerably.
Of course, if youíre like most people, when you hear someone talk about public transportation, you probably think of cities. Thatís understandable - after all, you do see the biggest transit systems and biggest buses in the biggest cities.
But public transportation is also an issue for rural communities. In fact, people living in rural areas often have even bigger challenges getting to jobs than people who live in cities. Many rural areas have no public transportation at all; others offer limited service. For example, Monroe County has a viable rural transit program, but itís only available weekdays - meaning people who rely on transit have a hard time taking on jobs requiring weekend work.
Such gaps in service remain even in the face of strong demand. In northern Indiana, for example, LaGrange County Area Transit has become so popular it has to turn people away. Its 11 daily shuttles transport workers - mostly Amish - to jobs in the booming housing and RV industry, and also gets Amish children and many teachers to area private schools. These shuttles are so popular, LCAT sometimes simply canít fit everyone on its buses.
In Johnson County, a similar program has been around since 1999. Funded through a variety of federal and local grants, Access Johnson County operates as a demand-response program, which means it allows people to call 24 hours in advance to schedule a ride anywhere in Johnson County between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. It offers flexible-fixed routes (if the route doesnít get you to your destination, the bus will deviate up to a mile from the route) and costs just $1 one-way ($2 if you need the flexible route). In addition, every 30 minutes, a fixed-route bus runs along U.S. 31 from Franklin to Greenwood.
With this system, Access Johnson County gets people to work, gets people to school, allows older adults to age in place and even helps parents provide transportation before and after school for their kids. Unfortunately, some federal grants that fund part of the program have expired, so routes had to be cut back, and it hurts.
It's not just the workers who are clamoring for improved public transportation. Employers want transit, too. After all, a key factor in choosing where to locate a company is workforce availability - which means they're not just considering whether workers are available, but whether workers can get to the workplace.
If the economic health of our state relies on employment, then we should be doing all we can to make sure that all available workers can get to jobs. We don't want willing workers to be cut off from employment opportunities, and we can't afford to lose businesses as a result of not having a well-funded, strategic public transportation system.
Let your state legislators know that you want all of your fellow Hoosiers to have the opportunity to not just get jobs, but to get to their jobs, regardless of whether they live in big cities or rural communities.
Cheri Perkins is executive director of LaGrange County Council on Aging/LaGrange County Area Transit, Becky Allen is transportation director of Access Johnson County, Roland Lemos is regional transportation director with Blue River Services Inc. (representing a 4-county public transit system based in Harrison County).
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