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Commuter Options Program
Photo: Studiomill
It’s not only people who move to the suburbs. Places of employment have gone there, too. And therein lies the challenge for low income people.

In an effort to make ends meet, inner city residents accept jobs that have moved to the suburbs. The problem is that the commute for many is exhausting and time-consuming. While the distance may not be far “as a crow flies,” the time spent walking and riding buses with various necessary transfers can add up to hours per day.

After making this observation about convoluted commutes, Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP) staff brainstormed various options and developed the Commuter Options Program, a vanpool for low income city residents. According to the Philadelphia City Paper report published in the March 9-12, 2006, edition, the Commuter Options Program was launched recently. To reach jobs in the suburbs, participants will pay up to $5 per day to be part of the vanpool.

Five workers at PUP will coordinate workers and routes as well as reach out to employers to encourage more recruitment in the inner city. While the program has started with two vans and 10 riders, the goal is to have 20 vans serving 200 workers by December 2006.

Working Partnerships

The program got on the road thanks to $1.48 million in federal funding. These Department of Transportation funds came through the federal Job Access and Reverse Commute program (JARC), a program that has been in existence since 1998. Matching funds were contributed by the state Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Public Welfare. The Partnership for Jobs and Housing (affiliated with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition) also operates six vans serving about 75 workers a week.

Demand should be strong for these vanpools according to facts gathered by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. The Commission says that since 2000 the city’s four suburban counties gained about 32,000 jobs while the city lost 14,000. In the next five years, it is estimated that the city will have zero growth in jobs while more than 75,000 more workers will be employed in the suburbs.

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