Welfare reform requires buses Transportation dilemma: Poor people required to work will need a ride to jobs.

January 02, 1996

TRANSPORTATION IS an essential aspect of welfare reform -- and, so far, it is not getting enough attention. State Human Resources Secretary Alvin C. Collins points out that the work requirement likely to be included in whatever reform plan Congress approves will be difficult to meet. Poorly educated aid recipients may not find jobs where they live and many don't have transportation to places where work is available.

Baltimore, for example, has 8,900 aid recipients who may be required by welfare reform to find a job. That will be difficult in a city that lost 1,800 jobs last year. Prince George's County will need jobs for 2,600 people, but it had a net loss of 200 jobs last year. Welfare regulations can be changed to allow some recipients to buy a car, but many of them won't be able to afford one.

Mr. Collins has discussed the problem with the Mass Transit Administration, which has agreed to see whether it can add more routes to places where jobs for welfare recipients can be found. But that may not happen. State law requires MTA to collect 50 percent of its operating costs from the fare box, making it difficult to add new routes that don't turn a profit.

MTA does plan to do away with zone fares, which would provide some relief for aid recipients who may have to travel long distances to get to work. But that relief may not be felt because MTA also wants to raise its regular fares -- just to continue existing service.

For welfare reform to work, the state may have to find the money to expand the Access to Jobs program that MTA started several years ago. Private companies are contracted to provide bus service where MTA does not go.

Human resources offices in each of the state's jurisdictions are working on local strategies for transportation. One possibility is to seek out partnerships with churches whose buses sit idle during the week, renting them on weekdays to transport people to work. Another idea is to forge agreements with school systems so that adults could be allowed to ride with students to work sites on school bus routes.

There should also be opportunities for solutions in the private sector, especially those companies in counties such as Howard which often have problems finding enough low-skilled workers. Many companies subsidize employee parking costs; perhaps some could subsidize the cost to provide an MTA bus route to their work sites.

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