B C Rides helps people get to work

When people work together to get things done solutions to obstacles can be overcome. BC Rides is one of those solutions. It's helping workers get to their jobs. 
Sometimes the only thing that stops a person from being employed is having a ride to work.

In Battle Creek, BC Rides is breaking down that obstacle to employment.

In October of 2014, City Commissioner Dean Newsome approached Sheri Harris to talk about the number of jobs that go unfilled--not because the people who could fill them are untrained--but because workers don't have the transportation they need to get to work.

Harris is president of JONAH, a faith-based community organization made up of local churches, nonprofits and individuals whose focus is on bringing groups of people together to make the community a more just and equitable place. And when given a challenge she is ready to tackle it--to make something happen, as she puts it.

Since JONAH works with churches it was natural to think of a form of transportation many churches have but only use once during the week--the church van. Harris and others began exploring whether churches would be willing to offer their vans to get people to work during the week.

The early vision was to mobilize church vans from the four corners of Battle Creek. Though many churches had vans it quickly became clear that the program needed to work with a single church to keep the transportation system they were developing from getting too complicated.

Pastor Ivan Lee of New Harvest Christian Center offered to do whatever it would take to help get the program on the road.

What initially emerged was a six month pilot program to help workers get to their jobs at Fort Custer Industrial Park.

Those who would benefit from transportation to work were identified by working together with Battle Creek EDGE (Essential Skills Demanded by Great Employers) a workforce development collaborative focused on helping impoverished residents find jobs and become financially stable.

The program started out with two people who needed rides. It quickly grew as word got out. Soon they were up to 50 riders. Demand was growing so quickly it was "insane," Harris says.

When they hit 20 riders the service that had been offered five days a week expanded. By the third week it was offering rides seven days a week, 24 hours a day. "Public transportation can't do that," Harris says.

The service initially focused on taking workers to Fort Custer at times when public transportation was not available. Workers at Systex Products Corp. and Janesville Acoustics were among the first to use the service.

Now workers get rides to and from work at 17 different companies across the metropolitan Battle Creek area, including those Applebee's Restaurant, Bronson, and a Home Care Private Nursing position. Pickups of workers at Haven of Rest Ministries at K-PEP also are made.

Harris says that 80 percent of those using BC Rides are new hires. "They call up and say, 'I just got a job and I can't get to it.' If we can offer a ride people can get work.

"We got a call recently from Denso (Manufacturing at Fort Custer). They said they an job candidate who met all their qualifications, and that she would have a job if she had a way to there. We connected with her and gave her a ride to work the next morning."

The link between transportation and employment is one that has been well documented. A recent report in the Economist titled "The geography of joblessness"  says "the typical American city dweller can reach just 30 percent of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment."

And a Federal Reserve report says: "Challenging transportation logistics are a hurdle for many unemployed residents of rural, urban, and suburban communities. Indeed, in many forums, inadequate public transit and car affordability emerged as significant barriers to attaining and maintaining employment. Transportation challenges can cause workers to be absent or late, or to spend more time than can be economically justified commuting to jobs."  

That Battle Creek has found a way to deal with the issue of transportation for workers who need it to get to their jobs is getting noticed. Harris says that groups from Kalamazoo and Detroit have been in contact to find out how the program came together and how they might be able to mirror it.

The program currently runs with three volunteer drivers, a volunteer dispatcher who has previous experience in that field, and a coordinator. Battle Creek Transit's Rich Werner helped them develop efficient routes for pickup and drop offs.

Workers line up a ride by contacting BC Rides a week in advance. They pay $10 round trip. Riders should call Gary Moore at 269.209.2079 to arrange to be picked up.

All riders pay in advance. When the program started new hires rode to work for free until they got their first paycheck. Those rides were possible thanks to a donation from Chapel Hill United Methodist Church. That money has been spent, however. 

"We don't lack help," she adds. "People want to help." They could use the donation of a mini-van, however. 

For New Harvest, Pastor Lee's church, working with BC Rides complements the direction the church is taking and it fits with their work to be "In relationship with the riders and are finding our more and more what their needs are," Harris says. Lee adds that the drivers build relationships with the riders in the same way one would if they were driving to work together. 

Lee says working with BC Rides allows the church to do to a lot of work outside its walls. "Churches do a lot of great work inside their walls, but we try to do more, within our means, with people outside our walls. That's where the greater number of people is Our mission is to reach the unchurched. That's what we do."

At the end of the six month trial period there will be an evaluation of the direction in which the project should go and what the needs are of those who are using it.

"We want to build, to grow and serve," Harris says. "It's not about making money, it's about serving the community." 

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Second Wave Media. She is a freelance writer and editor.