Access to safe, reliable transportation is about more than just getting from point A to B – it has the potential to open countless possibilities for brighter futures for individuals and communities. But this critical resource is not readily accessible for all our neighbors. We must prioritize additional transportation options to help ensure equitable access to opportunities for economic mobility in our region. 

Michelle Tucker

Michelle Tucker is president and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis

In United Way’s 2020 Community Needs Assessment, the issue of transportation ranked as one of the top five needs across the St. Louis region, with each of our 16 area counties in Missouri and Illinois reflecting it as a priority need. Recently, COVID-19 has only amplified these challenges for many of our neighbors. What’s more, some of our neighbors are disproportionately impacted by transportation barriers, which can leave them without safe, affordable ways to get to work or school or simply navigate the community.

Nationally, families from low-income neighborhoods, along with Black, Hispanic and immigrant communities, are less likely than other groups to have access to vehicles, leading to longer commutes and higher transportation costs, according to the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A report from the National Equity Atlas notes that across America, income and wealth disparities, on top of racial segregation driven by histories of discriminatory lending and zoning policies, redlining and other practices, drive up these inequities. And, people with disabilities and those who work irregular schedules face additional challenges in finding safe options that are accessible for them. 

Cities like Seattle, Jersey City, N.J., Arlington, Texas and Los Angeles have expanded their transit options through on-demand rides, low-income car ownership programs, carpools, shuttles, discounted public transit rates and other methods. Having the flexibility and freedom to travel when and where you need to go unlocks doors and changes lives. Working with our region’s nonprofits, we have seen this time and time again. For example, transportation needs represent the number one reason local people participate in Individual Development Account programs at local nonprofits. In these programs, participants work with a volunteer financial coach to meet a savings goal, and then their savings are matched to help them make purchases that will improve their financial stability. Thirty-two percent of program graduates use their funds to purchase vehicles. With a vehicle of their own, a young adult has a better chance of securing a better job or one located further away. A single parent may be able to attend school while working so they can continue to grow professionally while still being able to support their family.

We have also seen how too many of our neighbors need help with transportation so they can access their most basic needs. When local community partners came together with ridesharing service Lyft in 2019 for a pilot program offering free rides for those in need, the program was critical in helping local people access grocery stores for healthy food, medical appointments and job interviews. The program provided more than 2,200 rides over the span of about a year. 

By supporting expanded and equitable transportation options, we can connect our neighbors to the basic resources they need to thrive, the tools to improve their stability and the opportunities to fulfill their potential. And, this great impact will strengthen our entire community, paving the path for a brighter tomorrow. 

 

Michelle Tucker is president and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis

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