Job access for individuals with limited income can be hard; it can be twice as hard for individuals who have been involved with the justice system.
Promise in a Bike Donation Program
A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted a bike donation program in Southern Maryland that gives recent parolees a better chance of making it to their court appointments and jobs. The bikes are being provided through the Father O’Neill Council of the Knights of Columbus in Towson, MD, where volunteers fix donated bikes. The parolee donation program was the brainchild of Kimberly Gregory, a field supervisor in the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation. Several of the Father O'Neill bike recipients have said that having a bike makes it much easier to consistently show up to work and keeping those required court appointments.
The Workforce Angle
Workforce agencies, who serve dislocated and unemployed workers, will sometimes provide their clients with bus passes, gas vouchers, or money for car repairs, but I have not heard of any buying cars or bikes for clients. It’s long been a dream of mine that they consider buying bikes, especially e-bikes. One of the parolees cited in the Post article said he traveled about 10 miles each day on his pedal bike. A 2017 blog post by a cycling enthusiast noted that for an average cyclist on a non-electric pedal bike, 0-5 miles (one-way) should be an easy commute, 6-10 miles “doable,” and 11-15 miles “hard.” E-bikes, which have a pedal assist feature and may also include a motor to further ease travel, allow cyclists to go 20-28 hours/mile and ride up hills easier. Just think about how many more jobs are available to individuals within a 20-25 mile radius over a 10-mile radius.
Serving TANF Participants
Owning a relatively inexpensive bike or e-bike keeps TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; replacement for Welfare) recipients below the asset limit that states look at it to determine their eligibility for TANF, Food Stamps, and other public support programs. In many states, “owning even a modest car can disqualify a low-income person from receiving assistance. Forcing people to give up their vehicle to qualify for government assistance is problematic because it negatively impacts their ability to gain and retain employment,” stated a 2016 report by CLASP. In addition, it is often the case that cars TANF recipients buy are one breakdown away from obsolescence. A bike or e-bike could be just the ticket that provides reliable transportation for an individual until s/he can move off of TANF assistance and link to a longer term transportation solution.
Added benefit of cycling
Cycling provides, fresh air, and an emissions-free alternative to cars. An added bonus is the endorphins that exercise provides. A 2015 study found that aerobic exercise incases blood levels of a natural cannabinoid that can provide a “cyclist’s high” during a long ride. Even a small amount of exercise can provide a spike in serotonin, the “happy hormone,” a 2017 article reports.
I applaud mobility managers who remain aware of bike donation programs, and even more so, for those who begin discussions with employment specialists on this “out-of-the-car” solution. Learn more about NCMM's resources on job access at our Employment Transportation "By Topic" page.