The program promotes labor mobility
By Jean Faucher
“To think you’re stuck in this wheel of not being able to do anything would be a horrible way to live,” said Jared Tierney, senior transportation coordinator for Lutheran Social Services.
Tierney, a retired US Coast Guard veteran and former taxi professional, is also the host of New London’s Catch-A-Ride program.
The program coordinates volunteers with existing private and public means of transport to guarantee disadvantaged populations access to employment.
A recent survey of American communities found that nearly 15% of all households in Waupaca County face transportation access issues.
Tierney said that while there are services available in the county for people age 60 and older, or adults with disabilities age 18 and older, many residents fall into the gap.
Residents between the ages of 18 and 59 without access to a vehicle are often left behind.
Not everyone rides
Holly Keenan, mobility manager at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, said, “There are people in the community who just don’t drive, can’t drive, or can’t afford to buy a car.
Tierney works with Keenan exploitation programs like Make the Ride Happen.
In 2018, ThedaCare’s New London Community Health Action Team (CHAT) hosted an ‘immersed’ group of partners focused on examining transportation issues.
“This group came together and they identified that there’s a real gap here in transportation,” Tierney said. “So they identified the problems and then sought to find solutions.”
With funding from ThedaCare and other sources, they hired a staff member and offered a partnership with Make the Ride Happen.
Make the Ride Happen provides mobility management, which means they have paid staff who know all the transportation resources available in the area and can help people find the best low-cost options for a ride.
Catch-A-Ride is another program that leverages those same relationships to develop a call center and actively recruits volunteer drivers to fill those gaps.
Tierney said Catch-A-Ride does not duplicate existing transportation services in the community, but leverages the strengths of all partners involved to serve a wider range of people who were previously unserved.
“Transportation is probably one of the most complex industries I’ve worked in,” Tierney said.
“What we’re trying to do here is basically integrate two existing programs into one program and bring it into New London,” he said.
Building a reliable and dedicated group of volunteer drivers who use their own cars can take time, admits Tierney.
It’s also difficult to match volunteers with rides for shift workers and others who need rides during non-traditional hours when existing services aren’t working or not available at all.
“So that’s where we have to go to use taxi providers in a community,” Tierney said.
They realized that to get started, they would have to use a taxi service as their primary source of transportation.
Taxi service reaches New London
“Fox Valley Cab has been extremely supportive of our efforts here,” Tierney said. They took the risk, got a permit, and hired a driver to establish this full-time, 24/7 presence here in town.
They have been very helpful in this initiative,” he said.
“Fox Valley Cab’s arrival in this community was a huge boost and really the start of New London’s Catch-A-Ride program,” explained Tierney.
“First of all, having a taxi company involves a lot of costs. That margin for a taxi company is very slim. For them, coming from Appleton here in town was a huge hurdle that they took it upon themselves to solve. said Tierney.
Catch-A-Ride will work with Fox Valley Cab to provide subsidized transportation to job seekers.
Eventually, the volunteer base will be able to transition from providing job rides to transportation to other things like appointments, shopping, and church services.
Tierney said that as more pieces fall into place, it will be easier to set up individual driving programs that meet everyone’s needs.
A main goal is to get people to work.
“The two biggest issues facing employers right now when considering staffing shortages are transportation and childcare,” Tierney said.
“We can help build community employment, if we can bring everyone who wants and can work to those available jobs,” Tierney said.
“If you can’t place your child in day care and you can’t find a better paying job, what do you do? Tierney asked. “Are they stuck in this perpetual cycle of dependency on government aid?
The more people we can enable to work in the community, the more opportunities will open up for everyone who lives here,” he said.
The Catch-A-Ride program has formed a partnership with Mission of Hope House in New London to provide their clients with rides to job interviews and jobs with local employers.
Tierney said it was an effective starting point for the program and a win, a win for everyone.
“Now we can finally sit down and say ok, can we now send this resident to a local employer and provide this labor for them. It helps the community as a whole,” he said.
Andy Wilson, executive director of Mission of Hope House in New London, said the Catch-A-Ride program aligns perfectly with the mission statement of the Department of Health’s vision of “Communities Engaged in Eliminating of poverty”.
“The majority of residents who come to our shelter don’t have their own transportation and that adds another difficult barrier to their success,” Wilson said.
“For those of us who have our own means of transport, we don’t often think about the fact that the lack of transport exacerbates the crisis of poverty.
With this hurdle, one can be fully employable, but unable to go to an employer, or falsely labeled as unreliable,” Wilson said.
The Ride program helps open up new opportunities for families facing poverty, hardship and/or homelessness.
Tierney admits that the program has taken a while to complete its start-up phase and that they have faced the challenges of the pandemic, delayed software development and volunteer availability issues so far, but he is confident that progress continues.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” Tierney said. “There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work and case management. We are very careful to get it right the first time,” he said.
“So are we, because rural transport problems aren’t going away anytime soon.”