What a compassionate public transit system can mean for a city's poor

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.
Wed, 2016-06-15 13:25 -- Liz Enbysk

A recent editorial in The Columbus Dispatch lauds the news that the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) was awarded a long-sought federal grant to revamp its mass transit system.

As the writers point out, the new line will have all the bells and whistles you might expect – Wi-Fi, snazzy new stations, traffic-signal priority, etc. But there's more to it than advanced technology.

COTA picked its Cleveland Avenue line as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) test track. As such it will link two upscale areas -- Downtown’s Discovery District at one end and Westerville’s Medical Mile at the other. In between it will speed through Linden, one of the area's most impoverished communities.

Linden, as the Dispatch puts it, is "besieged by joblessness, a pitifully high infant mortality rate and vacant properties."

Extending opportunity
COTA believes its new line could mean a new life for some of the rundown and vacant properties along the route -- and improve opportunities for those who live along the route.

"The bus line will link employment centers and is as much about extending opportunity as it is about making mass transit competitive with cars," the editorial explains. "Getting to jobs, groceries or medical care often is a challenge for the poor because affordable housing isn’t always located near these things."

"Not having adequate transportation is one of the largest barriers we face when trying to connect a person or family with affordable housing," J’nae Peterman, director of homeless and housing services at Waypoint in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told The Gazette. "If no vehicle is available, options are incredibly limited. Everything a household needs -- housing, employment, child care, medical services and other services -- will need to be within walking distance of public transportation."

Flint's grocery bus
Residents in Flint, Michigan – already dealing with the lead water crisis – are also dealing with a food crisis. Lead-exposed individuals, the Detroit Free Press points out, need diets steeped in calcium, iron and Vitamin C which are found in many fruits and vegetables.

But food deserts in Flint make access to fresh fruits and vegetables a challenge for many.

Enter Flint's Mass Transit Authority, which launched a subsidized Ride to Groceries service to get people to grocery stores. One is a set route that stops at a Kroger's, Fresh Choice Marketplace and Walmart and costs 85 cents each way.  The other is a door-to-door service that costs $2.25 a ride and recognizes that not everyone can easily walk from a bus stop to their home with bags of groceries.

Grocery store on wheels
Another approach is to take healthy foods to where the people are by converting old city buses or school buses into rolling farmers' markets, as nonprofits in Toronto and Washington, D.C. have done.

Food banks are increasingly doing the same thing; sending refrigerated trucks to areas where they know the need is great. In Indianapolis, for the second summer in a row, WISHTV.com reports that the city's public safety agencies are teaming with a local food bank to send a mobile food bank into six high-crime neighborhoods.

"Children are telling us they will sometimes turn to petty crime just to try to provide food for themselves and their brothers and sisters," IMPD Chief Troy Riggs told WISH. "That isn’t something any child should have to worry about."

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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