Commuting to careers

Shared ride program provides workers with employment opportunities in areas with limited transportation options.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Thanks to a grant from the Wisconsin Departments of Workforce Development and Transportation, Union Cab of Madison Cooperative is one of three Madison-area organizations now providing workers with employment opportunities in areas with limited transportation options.

The Commute to Careers pilot program is built on the idea that businesses and employees mutually benefit from reduced transportation costs through innovation. Union Cab’s program will run through 2020 thanks to the $133,557 grant for developing a shared ride service.

Bill Carter is Union Cab’s business manager overseeing the Commute to Careers program. He says the cooperative first learned about it from a Union Cab member. “The member received an email from the Department of Workforce Development announcing the grant,” he explains. “I was already working on a similar proposal for the DreamUp Challenge [the local version of The Alliance for the American Dream] with Professor McAndrews from UW–Madison when I found about the Commute to Careers grant.”

According to Carter, Commute to Careers has two main goals. First, to help achieve the cooperative’s vision of serving the community in such a way that it’s recognized as a sustainable asset and valued resource by all. Second, to help fulfill its mission of creating jobs at a living wage or better in a safe, humane, and democratic environment by providing quality transportation services in the Greater Madison area.

“Quite simply we are helping employers, potential and current employees, and union members themselves gain or improve their employment or business status,” says Carter.

Union Cab operates the largest taxi fleet in Madison, providing more than 400,000 rides annually. Since launching the pilot program earlier this year, Union Cab has served nearly 100 workers from a variety of employers. “I thought we would have more employers participating by now,” Carter admits. “Sustainability depends on a stable ridership.

“We hope to make the program sustainable by getting employers on board to contribute to the cost of the rides,” Carter continues. “If we can do that, it could go on indefinitely. [Otherwise] the program will likely end when the grant money runs out.”

In order for local businesses to participate in Commute to Careers, workers and/or their employers need to reach out to Carter at Employers only need to supply a potential list of riders, or the general area where Union Cab would pick up, and the co-op will use that to evaluate the potential costs for both the riders and employers.

Riders in the Commute to Careers program pay just $5 per ride, and the remaining cost is covered by grant and/or employer. So far, Union Cab is primarily focused on off-peak hours — third shift and late night — and people with limited access to transportation.

In spite of the limited ridership so far, Carter says participating riders and employers have all expressed thanks that the program is available.

Last fall, DWD awarded 23 grants totaling $4,338,350 for Commute to Careers, and DOT awarded six grants totaling $832,072.

In addition to the grant for Union Cab, other Dane County organizations receiving grants were:

  • YWCA Madison Inc.: $200,338 to expand the YW Transit program.
  • QPS Employment Group Inc., Madison: $267,113 to expand its ride share program for employees.
  • Link Snacks Inc., New Glarus: $230,017 to work with a transportation service to create a van pool so workers from urban areas such as Madison, Janesville, and Beloit can get to the production facility in New Glarus.

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