Op-ed on Transit: The Right to Get to Work

I was honored to have the following op-ed published in The Indianapolis Star. As an advocate for mass transit in Central Indiana, this piece reflects an argument in favor of improved transit that has been on my mind for some time. I thought Labor Day was the perfect opportunity to express my point of view.

Let’s promote the right to get to work

Sep 2, 2012

Earlier this year, the debate over “right to work” legislation consumed the Statehouse and personified the partisan warfare dominating the Indiana General Assembly and electoral offices throughout the country. “Right to work” even got in the way of a bill before the House Ways and Means Committee, impeding an effort to consider a mechanism to create more transit, more transit options and more funding for transit.

Regardless of the merit of “right to work” legislation, and, as we celebrate the American workforce on Labor Day, I can’t help but think of another work-related right — the right to get to work.

While the majority of Hoosiers get a day of respite from the daily grind, many residents of Central Indiana are looking for work. Job seekers face a variety of obstacles, but enhancing transit is one where taxpayers actually can wield influence.

The fact is that transit options are a major hurdle for many locals looking to earn a paycheck. Anecdotally, I volunteered for Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit at the Indiana State Fair this year to help collect petition signatures in support of more transit, and I heard from a number of people that they need better transit options for getting to work.

Many of us don’t understand this. We have our cars that comfortably and reliably move us back and forth to work each day. I’ve heard transit detractors say their fellow Hoosiers just need to get a car.

However, the notion that owning an automobile is a prerequisite for a job or necessary to access any job in the city seems simply unfair. I wrote something to that effect recently on my Facebook page and a friend shared an astute observation made by a youth worker she knew from the United Kingdom. He said that, for the most part, the dividing line for poverty in America isn’t education or geography — it’s having a car.

Many people simply can’t afford a car, much less a reliable one, while others may not be able to drive. Some people have had their licenses revoked for mistakes they’ve made. Should they also be unemployable too? Some people are simply physically incapable of driving for one reason or another. Should they have less opportunity to work just because of an illness, disability or life-altering accident? There are also men and women permanently disabled from a wound suffered while serving their country. Don’t these veterans deserve the right to get to work?

We hear from our politicians all the time about creating jobs, yet if these politicians are serious about creating jobs, they also need to make sure people can get to jobs. What good is a job when some Hoosiers are already eliminated from consideration for said job because they can’t afford a car or rely on our woefully underfunded bus system?

Again, at the State Fair, I heard anecdote after anecdote from people who must get a job within a certain radius of their homes or who can’t take a job because the bus doesn’t run late or early enough.

I recently ran across a blog post about a business owner who interviewed a potential student intern. The candidate opened up the interview stating that she would be taking the bus for her internship. The owner explained that for the first time he realized how the bus service (or lack thereof) dictated where she was going to work and that public transportation was going to be a factor in her career choices. Interestingly, she wasn’t applying for a minimum wage job; this was a young woman one year away from a college degree.

There are a variety of other reasons to support transit, including economic development opportunities, permanent jobs, environmental benefits, and other quality of life enhancements. However, the reality is that a truly sustainable region is a city at work, where all of us have the equal opportunity to earn a living. Without transit, that equality is lacking. Everyone deserves the right to get to work.

Puckett is principal of two21 LLC and a member of Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit.

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