All Americans deserve the opportunity to participate in the American dream. But in order for that to happen, we must first bridge the mobility gap. Many upper-and-middle-class Americans buy gas, pay for insurance, and maintain a car without the weight of substantial financial burdens on their shoulders. Most purchase homes that are close to their office or children’s school, making it easy to be on time and create social connections to move upward on their economic ladders. But for many low-income families—it’s a different story. They don’t have a reliable car or reliable public transportation. Well-paying jobs are often far away from impoverished neighborhoods. Without the money or access to commute to work on time, people living in poverty have a harder time escaping their circumstances.
Some people living with disabilities often have to wait up to two hours for a paratransit. Or worse, they are stranded. A report by the Community Advancement Network in Austin, Texas, says access to public transportation, especially in low-income areas, affects everything from access to after-school programs to healthcare service for locals.
ZIP codes have the potential to influence the likelihood of our success — not only for us, but also for our children. Parents are struggling to make it to after-school activities or arrive on time to parent-teacher conferences, affecting their children’s overall achievements in and out of school.
The social mobility gap of today increases the risk of losing talented employees and future business leaders of tomorrow. In fact, one in seven young people between the ages of 16 and 25 are neither in school nor working, costing the government $93.7 billion in support and lost tax revenue. We cannot leave them behind.
We can either keep things as they are, or we can invest in new mobility structures that will not only help the isolated, but also society as a whole.
So how do we close the gap?
For starters, improving the local mobility economy within poor to middle-class areas can help bridge the gap. By adding new stores (like Starbucks) or offering bikeshare programs across the country, we can provide locals with opportunities for employment and a means of transportation to get to and from. Additionally, Safe Passage programs, like the one in Chicago, can help ensure students in unsafe communities make it safely home or to school.
These programs still doesn’t answer the question of accessing areas outside of the inner city though. To remove the mobility gap, America needs a holistic approach with coordinated efforts from both the private and public sector. Individually, the government can approve dedicated bus lanes, businesses can offer flexible schedules, and nonprofits can provide assistance. But these three groups need to work together to make real progress.
Many communities require that buses and a percentage of cabs accommodate wheelchairs in accordance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But a public-private partnership intent on improving technology would afford easy transport. Instead of adapting all of our cabs and busses with costly retrofit equipment, the government can incentivize the private sector to create innovative technology to make the transportation process easier for this group. Being ADA-accessible isn’t as good as having technology platforms that send a specially outfitted vehicle — at a reasonable price — to take disabled people where they need to go in a timely manner.
For instance, The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) grants all NC counties a percentage of the Rural Operating Assistance Program (ROAP) Grant, which helps provide transportation assistance for several types of riders, including the elderly and disabled, those needing assistance for job access, and the general public.
And as for businesses that find themselves consistently terminating employees because they can’t get to work on time, they are losing both time and money by hiring and training new employees. To remedy that problem, those companies should work with the city to create mobility packages for employees and drastically reduce its turnover rates. A business will end up paying one way or another, but only one option affords long-term employees. A public-private partnership is the key to fixing this problem.
Even when governments, businesses, and nonprofits don’t directly put new transportation infrastructure into disadvantaged neighborhoods, they can still free up resources that can be spent directly in those communities. This will make more efficient use of existing infrastructure. If the government fails to work to enable the flexibility of business and nonprofit employers, then, as Robert Putnam demonstrated in “Our Kids,” the divide between those with and those without will only get worse. We must all work together to bridge the mobility gap.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.