Workers without cars can face long walks from the bus stop to the job. Solon pilots a fix for that
Last year, it could take Angel Santiago an hour and a half to get to and from his home in Ohio City to his job at Wrap Tite in Solon.
That’s assuming his ride is free of common public transit challenges like long wait times for buses, long walks to and from bus stops and multi-bus connections, all of which can make the commute that much longer.
Now, Santiago, who's 61, saves time and has a relaxing start to his day thanks to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s pilot Solon Workforce Connector program.
“They're very reliable,” he said. “You can count on the service, you know, you don't have to worry about freezing outside waiting for the bus. … It's pretty good.”
RTA partnered with Columbus-based ride share provider SHARE Mobility to bring microtransit to the region in the form of 14-passenger transit vans. The Workforce Connector Program gives Solon employees the opportunity to save time on their daily commutes by scheduling rides directly to and from their workplaces.
The city of Solon has about 900 companies with 30,000 jobs, Solon Mayor Eddie Kraus said, but for those who don’t have access to a personal vehicle and those who live outside of Solon, it can be difficult to reach those jobs each day.
“If you live in the city of Cleveland, if you live East Side or West Side, [it] could take up to maybe 80 or 90 minutes just to get to work in the morning, and then 80 or 90 minutes to get home,” Kraus said. “So, that's at least three hours of your day that you're just on a bus.”
Riders can schedule pick-up and drop off times months in advance through a web application and specify any ADA accommodations in the app.
Riders are responsible for getting from their homes to the Southgate Transit Center in Maple Heights, and can use one of four Greater Cleveland RTA routes to get there – routes 19, 40, 41 and 90. Once they step off the bus at Southgate Transit Center, riders can board the Share Mobility van and ride directly to their workplaces.
“So, no more of this, you know, 20-minute walk in the bad weather,” Kraus said. “[The program] will cut down the transportation maybe anywhere from … 30 to 40 to 50 minutes both in the morning and at the end of the day.”
The experience getting to work can set the tone for the day, Kraus said, and can affect a person’s mood, mindset and productivity level throughout the workday.
“That affects your career, that affects your advancement in that job [and] that affects your ability to scale up so you get the next job available,” Kraus said. “It’s a win for the companies, but it's also a great benefit for the mental and physical health of workers.”
Santiago said his commutes to work since using the service have been enjoyable.
“It's been great,” he said. “I recommend it because, like, if you can't drive or whatnot for any reason … it’s a good thing to utilize.”
Today was a day of celebration as GCRTA,@ridewithshare, and @CityofSolon had a ribbon cutting to celebrate the Connectworks program at the Southgate Transit Center. The program bridges the gap between transportation and employment, providing free vanpooling. pic.twitter.com/BWnHtn9HXw— Greater Cleveland RTA (@GCRTA) February 16, 2023
Though the program launched in December, the Greater Cleveland RTA held a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday to mark a successful start to the program, according to the press release.
RTA initiated the planning process with the goal of bringing some sort of microtransit program to the region, Director of Programming and Planning Maribeth Feke said.
“I'm sure we talked to every mobility provider… in the U.S. about what different programs looked like,” she said. “And then we just went from there.”
The agency began by researching similar programs across the country to figure out what might work best in its transit system before submitting a request for proposals in 2020.
“On one hand, launching micro transit was something that was part of our strategic plan,” Greater Cleveland RTA’s Intergovernmental Relations Officer José Feliciano said, “and also getting more people access to jobs was one of the aims of our system redesign.”
SHARE Mobility responded to the transit agency’ RFP, which SHARE Mobility’s Government Affairs Manager Lexi Petrella said stood out since it didn’t outline a specific solution or location.
“It's a great project for us to work on,” she said, “because we want to make sure that as a transportation company, we are helping transit agencies get over those hurdles and make sure they're serving their populations as best as they can.”
SHARE Mobility identified Solon as an ideal location for a microtransit program, Petrella said, since many of the city’s manufacturing jobs are far away from bus stops.
“It could be a quarter mile, it could be two miles,” she said. “Either way, it's pretty, I would say, unfair to ask people to who don't have access to a personal vehicle or even frequently have access to a personal vehicle to do that long bus route and then walk the rest of the way to a job.”
In Solon, the mayor, along with Senator Matt Dolan, were working with the city’s mobility taskforce to address transit issues head on. Both elected officials were vocal about transit issues in the area and collaborated with RTA to bring additional stops, bus shelters and other transit improvements in the city.
“It's important to highlight the fact that Senator Dolan, being such a vocal champion for public transit down in the State House, recognized that this is a problem that needs to be tackled and the business community wants to find solutions for this,” Feliciano said.
In Cuyahoga County, 12% of residents don’t have access to personal cars, and Kraus said microtransit programs like the Solon Workforce Connector could bring more employees to jobs looking to hire.
“[Companies] need workers. Especially in today's world where we have lots of jobs that aren't being filled,” he said. “So, I think it makes us just more competitive.”
The program is free for employees to use, but employers cover 50% of the program’s cost. The Greater Cleveland RTA is funding the remaining half of the program up to $300,000, according to the press release.
The agency is considering the addition of another microtransit program in the region and issued an RFP for an additional pilot program Monday. RTA Director of Planning and Programming Maribeth Feke said the RTA hopes to bring microtransit services to more communities.
“Mayor Kraus and Solon, they are a poster child [for] how we would love to establish collaborative relationships with every community in Cuyahoga County,” Feke said. “If we could get every community like that, or even just three or four, it would make a world of difference in transit use.”