There is a bright spot in our troubled employment world, and it emanates from a small but powerful transportation program in Olympia, Wash. Intercity Transit’s Village Vans program provides essential transportation services for low-income job seekers and workers. Celebrating 10 years of service this month, this first-of-its-kind program provides a low-cost, high-benefit payoff to the individuals that use the service and the community that the service operates in by supporting workforce development and economic health.
The Village Vans program provides transportation for low-income residents pursuing employment, job training or getting to work. Intercity Transit, Thurston County’s public transportation provider and program administrator, transports individuals to area destinations for job search, skills training, and employment purposes. Local residents qualified to use the service deliver job applications, pursue education and skills development, complete employment interviews or traveling to new jobs. The service is free to qualified clients. Client trips to childcare centers, clothing banks and food banks are also supported.
The impetus for this program came from research completed in the late 1990s involving over 40 regional social service organizations. The findings of this study identified transportation as the single largest barrier to people successfully transitioning from government aid to financial stability. Intercity Transit then secured funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Job Access, Reverse Commute (JARC) Program and the Department of Social and Health Services’ WorkFirst Transportation initiative to launch a small demonstration project. Ten years and more than 54,000 trips later, Village Vans has become an established, nationally recognized innovative transportation model.
“Transportation is a huge barrier for our customers, and this is an answer to that problem,” says Pamela Grindstaff of Pacific Mountain WorkForce Consortium. One client says, “I would not have been able to take my children to childcare and get to my job training class on time without Village Vans. They helped me during my internship and that led to my permanent, full-time job.”
The Village Vans program supports workforce development and economic health with a multi-pronged approach. In addition to providing transportation to qualified individuals, the program itself is also a job skills training program. Eligible driver trainees operate the program’s vans in exchange for work experience, job search coaching, and skill-building instruction. The volunteer driver trainees’ time contributes significant value to the program, translating to over $143,000 in 2011 alone.
To date, 93 percent of driver trainees have successfully found employment. Kasey, a graduate of the driver trainee program, is now a bus driver for Intercity Transit. “The program helped me learn so much — reading maps, scheduling, dispatching, van driving, providing customer service, and working with different kinds of people,” she states.
“It’s a win-win-win,” states Ann Bridges, Village Vans supervisor. “This program removes a major barrier — lack of reliable transportation — and successfully moves people from government aid to economic independence while supporting workforce development. It’s a triple win — for individuals, employers who gain good employees and the community.”