Wednesday, November 17, 1999

'Reverse commute' buses workers from city to burbs


Aim is to link jobless with jobs

BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Next month, Hamilton County residents without cars will have a link to Warren and Butler county employers desperate for workers.

        Transit agencies in the three counties today will an nounce plans for a $1.4 million expanded “reverse commute” program, called JobBus, to begin Dec. 5.

        Metro buses from downtown Cincinnati will take employees to Fairfield, Sharonville and the areas around Mason, Lebanon and Deerfield Township.

        From there, they can board smaller buses to take them to work in the booming suburban areas. They'll give bus drivers a time to pick them up at the end of the day to return them to Metro buses heading downtown.

        This is the first time the region's transit agencies have worked together to link service and get people to jobs.

        “We are eager to see how the program does,” said Sallie Hilvers, spokeswoman for Metro. “We know the need for workers there in the suburbs. We also know there are a lot of employees in the city who need jobs who can't get there.”

        Figuring out how to get city workers to suburban jobs is a problem nationwide.

        Greater Cincinnati's JobBus project in May was one of more than 179 transit projects nationwide to get a portion of $71.3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation's new Job Access and Reverse Commute Program.

        “Most of the jobs aren't in the inner city,” said Velvet Snow, spokeswoman for the Federal Transit Administra tion. “Many of the jobs are in the suburbs, and there's no transit to get there.”

        The $724,450 grant will pay for more than half of Greater Cincinnati's reverse-commute program. About a dozen other local sources, including state, county, transit systems and municipalities, are paying $675,000 more.

        Some employers arecautiously optimistic about how many people will use it.

        “We are always looking for good help,” said Kevin Atwell, general counsel for Performance Automotive in Fairfield. “This is an opportunity to open up the doors outside the immediate area.”

        One of the keys for success, employers say, is the hours that the buses will run, minimizing the time employees must spend getting to and from work.

        JobBus planners at Metro, the Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA) and Warren County Transit tried to meet the needs. Circulator buses will run weekdays in Butler County, including second-shift hours. The buses also will run on weekdays in Sharonville. In Warren County, buses will run 365 days a year.

        There is no charge for the JobBus circulator van service. Riders will only pay the regular Metro or Blast (BCRTA) bus fare.

        “One of the big tools in recruiting is transportation,” said Chris Rhode, human resources director for Que- becor World, a printing company. “If we can get one or two employees out of it, we will be happy.”

        For the past couple of months, Dorothy Coleman, of Cumminsville, has taken advantage of a reverse-commute bus from Cincinnati to Fairfield to get to her job at Wire-Tek, which moved from Cincinnati to the suburbs. When she gets to Fairfield, a smaller bus that the BCRTA started running earlier this year takes her to work.

        “There's a lot of jobs out here, and there are a lot of people looking for jobs that don't know how to get there,” Miss Coleman said. “If people find out about this program, it would help a lot of people.”

        Money is in place to keep JobBus running for a year. Greater Cincinnati transit agencies will apply jointly for another federal grant to continue the program the following year. If rider ship builds and the program is popular, it could be paid for through private and public partnership after federal money runs out, regional planners say.

        For more information call the JobBus information line at 731-5030. Hamilton residents should call the Butler County Regional Transit Authority at 785-5237.

       



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