ANNAPOLIS – Successful welfare reform is directly tied to adequate public transportation, experts say. A good transit system can help welfare recipients get to better paying suburban jobs and, therefore, off public assistance.
More than 30 Baltimore-area community, social service and environmental groups Thursday backed a Maryland House of Delegates joint resolution that would create a transportation commission to examine such specific problems and determine funding needs for Maryland’s transit system.
“Research indicates that efficient and affordable transportation of city residents, especially to suburban areas where wages tend to be higher and opportunities more numerous, is an absolute necessity if welfare reform is to succeed,” said Jamal Mudbi-Bey, project director of AdVANtage II, a Sojourner-Douglass College welfare-to-work initiative.
People driving to city jobs can park in a garage and hop on the subway, bus or light rail for a straight route to their destination. However, city dwellers who work in the suburbs but do not own their own cars must take several different buses to get to their jobs, he said. This trip out of the city can take several hours both ways.
“In Maryland, millions of tax dollars are spent every year to subsidize commuters traveling from suburban areas to their jobs in the city,” he said. “Millions of new commuters (welfare recipients) are in need of affordable, reliable, reverse commute transportation.”
The joint resolution would establish a Commission on Transportation Investment to target approximately $400 million in future state transportation needs. The commission would include six state senators, six delegates, four members of the public appointed by the Governor and representatives of transportation, planning, highway and transit offices and organizations around the state.
“The issue of transportation is very important, but we need to look more closely at the question of how much money is put into both the roads and the transit system,” said Delegate Henry Heller, D-Montgomery, co-sponsor of the joint resolution. “We have a limited pot of money.”
Representatives of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association said they hope establishment of such a commission will target better city transit possibilities. Expanding the bus, subway and light rail systems in urban areas, such as Baltimore, could widen the job market prospects for city residents and reduce urban sprawl, the group said.
Clearly, jobs are in one place and where people live is another place, and there is no connection between the two,” said Ralph Moore, co-chairman of the transportation committee of the Baltimore-based organization.
While more jobs are available than ever before, they are increasingly in areas not served by efficient transportation systems, said Michael Mitchell, manager of the Chesapeake Career Center, a job placement service.
Mitchell said a reformed drug dealer from Baltimore, who was trying to legally support his family, received help from the job service center only to be placed with a job in nearby White Marsh. The man now awakens every morning at 4:30 to arrive at work by 7, after using multiple buses. He returns every evening around 8 after a similar journey home.
Transit situations such as this one often discourage welfare recipients from keeping jobs, but improving the current transportation system could make all the difference, Moore said.
“I’ve ridden in buses where people are holding up umbrellas on a day it’s raining because there is as much rain coming in as there is outside,” he said. “We owe the citizens more and better transportation as paying customers.”