Policy Brief: Response to DVRPC Access to Jobs Reverse

  Commute Plan for the Delaware Valley

  By Michael D. Van Stine and Bradley C. Brown










In June, 1999, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) published "Access to Opportunities in the Delaware Valley Region: Regional Reverse Commute Transportation Plan". This publication was the result of multi-year exhaustive research begun in 1996 in response to new Federal and state welfare reform and new grant program initiatives to encourage reverse commuting. The work was undertaken, in part, as a result of the DVRPC's formal role as the Greater Philadelphia Region's Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

WorkForce21 is a nonprofit enterprise that has provided reverse commute transportation management for up to 500 riders and a number of corporate clients daily throughout Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Mercer, Burlington and Camden counties. The management team of WorkForce21 has implemented reverse commute strategies for some of the area's largest employers since 1988.

There was a public hearing on the DVRPC plan on May 10, 1999 and a public comment period for thirty days thereafter. EmployeeExpress did not receive one of the 300 invitations nor did they see the published legal notice during the public comment period.

In an effort to communicate to the DVRPC concerns that the stakeholders of EmployeeExpress have regarding the plan, we have chosen to produce this outline of observations and issues. It is our hope that they will become a part of the record and integrated into the evolving policy and program response to reverse commuting in our region.

The DVRPC work is extensive. We feel the publication is well written and well documented. However, as is usually the case with such a broad-based, extensive study, there are always those that can and will draw different conclusions based on both different interpretations of data and the use of supplemental data not included in a specific report. Also, the decision making process surrounding public resources, by its very nature, does not ever come with a guarantee that the very best configuration of resources to accomplish a particular task is always achieved. As a practical matter, public policy is shaped by politics and compromise and rarely does the best outcome ever occur -- usually the compromise outcome that everyone can live with.

Having said that, these are our concerns. We hope they will be viewed in the spirit in which they are offered -- one of cooperation and change for the positive benefit of all concerned.

Issues and Concerns with the Report's Content and/or Conclusions and/or with Specific Strategies Recommended in the Report

In the Executive Summary of the plan, DVRPC notes: "The plan also contains the regional strategy addressing access-to-jobs and reverse commuting adopted by the DVRPC Board of Directors at its December 4, 1998 meeting and includes the following objectives:

    o Promote Transit Affordability

    o Promote Job Retention with Transportation-Related Support Services

    o Expand Transit Education to Promote Ridership

    o Improve Accessibility with New Transit and Ridesharing Initiatives

    o Promote the Long-Term Viability of New Transportation Services

    o Develop Strategies to Promote More Effective Access-to-Jobs Coordination

We are first struck by concerns surrounding objectives 3, 4 and 5.

On item 3, we feel that the goal suggests a strong bias to transit needs over client needs. Promoting ridership is a goal that helps the transit system not the rider.

On item 4, accessibility is a utility function of easier to get to time efficient travel plus more manageable expense. If this is viewed as just more expanded service, it is too narrow a definition. If the added service doesn't proportionally increase the efficiency of travel, it may add more ridership, but not better service linked to employment in the real world. If there is additional cost associated with increased access, it has the effect of decreasing access. As for the general concept of what is needed in the short term, since this is the only category relating to actual, immediate transit transportation operations, additional service as has been implemented; programs funded under the Access to Jobs initiative and increased ridesharing is way too little to have much effect. Ridesharing is generally a poor strategy for the working poor. Nationally, TANF clients, when they have a car, have one of only $650 in value. They are many times in poor shape, lack insurance or legal inspection, are unreliable, and when and where ridesharing occurs, strands multiple employees when clunkers break down. Other "non poor" employees usually have little interest to travel to poor "unsafe" neighborhoods to pick up riders.

On item 5, some short term responses may be simply short term indefinitely, until clearer policy and/or resources can be defined. It may neither be possible or desirable, given TANF and WtW time constraints, and so many funding scenarios that have no longevity attached to them, to do more than immediate, targeted "stop-gap" programming that is efficient and results oriented for the employee and employer.

We do NOT support the general strategy of across the board bi-state reverse commuting; nor the specific project funded with the Mayor's Office of Community Services to move inner-city residents who live in the American Street Empowerment Zone to jobs in Pennsauken and Moorestown. We do agree that the Delaware River should not act as an artificial boundary for regional awareness and for employees who live on one side and obtain employment on the other. However, while reverse commuting is a reality and even a necessity to link prospective employees to where jobs really exist, the length and time of the commute should always be kept as short as possible. There is nothing to be gained by exporting PA residents to jobs in Pennsauken and Moorestown when a sufficient number of inner-city Camden and Burlington City residents exist to fill these jobs. Regional consciousness does not imply the exportation of one counties woes to another, with the affected employees having a longer, more costly and more complicated commute than would be had by their local counterparts.

To wit:

    o Since January, 1999 to August, 1999, the statewide NJ unemployment level has increased from 184,500 to 200,800, and increase of 16,300 persons, and increasing the statewide unemployment rate from 4.4% to 4.7%. Statewide, NJ had a low of 177,000 persons unemployed in April versus a high of 231,000 in July. Statewide, in 1998, the unemployment rate was 4.6% with 191,800 persons unemployed.

    o Specifically, since the beginning of the current calendar year, Burlington County had a low of 6,600 persons unemployed versus a high of 9,700 in July; Camden County had a low of 10,400 persons unemployed in April versus a high of 14,400 in July; the Camden Labor Area had a low of 21,900 persons unemployed in April versus a high of 31,800 in July; and Specifically, since the beginning of the current calendar year, Camden County had a low of 21,900 persons unemployed versus a high of 31,800 in July.

In Burlington County, by municipality in 1998, the following is noteworthy:


  Beverly 6.2% 95

  Burlington City 5.2% 281

  Burlington Township 3.8% 269

  Pemberton Township 4.8% 762

  Willingboro 4.1% 983

This is a total of 2,390 unemployed persons in areas of low/moderate income, with a total of 7,550 persons unemployed in the county. The "employment center" of Moorestown had 213 unemployed persons.

In Camden County, by municipality in 1998, the following is noteworthy


  Camden 12.9% 4,137

  Pine Hill 5.4% 297

  Lindenwold 4.8% 557

This is a total of 4,991 unemployed persons in areas of low/moderate income (with Camden a deeper per capita center of poverty than Philadelphia), with a total of 11,513 persons unemployed in the county. The "employment center" of Pennsauken had 585 unemployed persons.

While it is also true that Philadelphia has a much greater total number of TANF households and they have the greatest percentage of total households by far, even the report's Table 1-2 documents that Camden and Gloucester counties have a total of 8,700 TANF households, which represents 18% and 16% of all households respectively. This compares noticeably to the total of 8,600 households in PA combined in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties, and with respective percentages of 12%, 11%, 15% and 10%.

In short, there are ample numbers of job seekers to satisfy the number of job opportunities is the areas designated with shorter and less expensive transit options.

We agree that the cross-river commuting is substantial, as concluded in the report's table 1-3 and related narrative. This is commonly evidenced by peak hour bridge transit. But this has to be put into perspective. According to the report, only one in seventeen workers out of the total worker pool cross the river for this purpose. Not an impressive statistic. Of a total of 2,434,000 jobs in the nine county region as a whole, only 63,000 commuted from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and 81,000 from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. That is a total of 144,000 or only 6% of the grand total. The overwhelming percentage of this group commute by private vehicle in all cases (see Table 2-5), and are minimally representative of the working poor.

In Table 1-4, the report postulates that there are 24 transit accessible employment centers Camden to Pennsylvania with 6 "Tier One" employment centers (defined as a less than 30 minute commute, hub to job); 12 Trenton to Philadelphia with 4 being Tier One and 29 Philadelphia to New Jersey with 3 being Tier One.

Then, in a convenient footnote to the table, the report notes that in defining Tier One status "Travel time estimates do not include the 'first leg' of the trip from home to transit hub or layover time between different routes". We are unsure as to the reason to create a table that has a footnote that essentially negates the value of the table. In reality, negating one or the other of this items relegates all designated sites to Tier Two status at best; negating both assures all 13 sites are actually Tier Three status, with commutes that are a minimum of sixty minutes, and in general much longer. This also ignores the additional implied footnote of where there is a mismatch between the arrival time and the actual start of work time, which is also a part of the commute time, only compounding the problem further.

In "Access to Jobs: The Intersection of Transportation, Social and Economic Development Policies -- A Challenge for Transportation Planning in the 21st Century", Shirley M. Loveless, a Transportation Consultant with the University of Pennsylvania, summarized data as a part of sampling the reality of Delaware Valley commuting. In her study, she plotted a total of 864 trips between three Philadelphia neighborhoods and 38 employment centers in Delaware and Montgomery Counties (not even touching the more difficult bi-state commuting odyssey and purposely chosing the two PA counties with the most developed SEPTA service). With this regional "stacked deck", she chose three Philadelphia neighborhoods as commute locations that were all central community locations and ones relatively well-served by transit. They were:

    North Philadelphia: Rising Sun and Adams Avenues

    South Philadelphia: Tasker Avenue and 30th Street

    West Philadelphia: 48th Street and Parkside Avenue

She also used SEPTA route maps and the most recent available schedules as of June, 1999. In her study, she modeled the most time-efficient route for each commute.* (*Where this involved using the regional rail and would incur substantial expense, an alternative route was modeled, if one was feasible. In some cases, this was not possible-the alternative did not exist. Additional alternative routes were modeled for some commutes, if taking one route was most time efficient for the work trip, for example, but another route was more time-efficient for the return trip.) She correctly distinguished between "travel time" and "trip time" in her survey, in order to calculate both the gap between the latest possible arrival at work and the actual start of work and the "dwell time" if you will, the time spent between trip transfers and actual time spent in motion. Of the 864 modeled trips, 89 (slightly more than 10 percent) fail entirely because transit service is not available when needed for at least one trip link. This is extremely important because the failure of either the outbound or inbound trip means, in most cases, that the commute fails. It does no good to have one-way transit service. Of the remaining 775, total trip times ranged from 38 minutes to 240 minutes (4 hours). In many cases, the next earlier transit service for the inbound trip or the next later service for the outbound trip failed by as little as one minute. This necessitated a long wait for the next scheduled service in the case of the trip home or leaving home much earlier for the trip outbound. Other trips were unavoidably lengthened by long waits because of inefficient connections. The study's key conclusions were:

  Mean one-way trip time: 112 minutes (1hr.52 min.)

  Median one-way trip time: 109 minutes (1hr. 49 min.)

  Mode: 89 minutes (1hr. 29 min.)

Of the feasible 775 trips, only 39 were less than 60 minutes, one way and only 61 trips were less than 75 minutes, one-way.

In NJ, as the report notes, the state provided each county with GIS-based resources showing the existing transit network, address mapping of its Work First New Jersey (WFNJ) welfare population, child care centers and major employers. This is phenomenal. Pennsylvania has not done this, and until planners know where the actual clients live in relation to services, the plan will be flawed in Pennsylvania.

In contrast to SEPTA's Breeze initiatives, as the report notes, Gloucester County initiated a demonstration project where they are using a 28 vehicle paratransit fleet as a "feeder network" to move persons on public assistance from their homes to NJT bus stops. From there, participants transfer to NJT buses (using their county provided "Work Passes" and continue on to their job destinations.

Let's repeat that for emphasis: they initiated a demonstration project where they are using a 28 vehicle paratransit fleet as a "feeder network" to move persons on public assistance from their homes to NJT bus stops. From there, participants transfer to NJT buses (using their county provided "Work Passes" and continue on to their job destinations.

We feel this is extremely meritorious. The report goes on to mention how Gloucester has planned for the special needs of different clients, and that the creation of the feeder has "virtually eliminated transportation as a real or perceived barrier to work."

We also draw substantial emphasis to this as a contrast to the two competing philosophies of NJT and SEPTA. We clearly favor the feeder approach.

The six shuttle services eluded to in the specific county by county summaries (e.g. Breeze and SCOOT) are not going to be any better than their frequency of travel and the successful ability of clients to get to the service. To wit, the report cites: "&ldots;the average (emphasis added) Horsham Breeze commuter travels one hour and 28 minutes door to door each way and most use two modes of transportation before they board the Breeze bus. One third of the riders make a stop along the way to work and spend an average of one hour and 45 minutes in transit each way." While this part of the report was citing the values of the Breeze service in assisting in transit to remote "growing employment centers", and how the smaller vehicles are more cost-efficient to SEPTA, it unwittingly documented the horror of this type of shuttle service to the rider when it is designed as a system link. Remember&ldots;this was the average rider experience, with many much longer than this.

Our experience has been that the SEPTA Customer Information and Outreach has been a poor succes at best. The SEPTA service map for suburban routes is seriously dated and the new one tied up in production and printing delay; maps don't match services adequately to actual child care locations with capacity; schedules are not always available at SEPTA locations; SEPTA's highly publicized "train the trainer" sessions have certainly not provided a panacea of knowledgeable agents on behalf of SEPTA (Shirley Loveless' experiences in trying to obtain accurate data from SEPTA agents are legendary); requests for information from the general information number and even in writing is all to often ignored; and the internet web site, with its own missing data (routes missing and some routes with only inbound or outbound data) requires internet access ability to access. Lastly, as Shirley has noted, there is no publicizing anywhere we can find of the Market Frankford El and Broad Street Subway free interchange and/or the free transfer between the subway/el and the subway/surface trolley lines at points of intersection. This causes a lack of awareness of the opportunity to avoid $.40 transfer charges or worse, another $1.60 base fare if two transfers have been used.

The Delaware County Collaborative is entirely misstated. This is most likely the penalty of a report prepared over years, and just demonstrates how quickly information in this arena can become dated. In reality, little or no leadership thus far has been provided by the Delaware County Assistance Office. They have traditionally insisted and maintained to this day that their clients require little "special treatment", although most case load reductions have been achieved on paper rather than a mass exodus into employment. We do not know of the sub-committees that are being referenced -- the DELCO Works committee is unofficially inactive and has been essentially replaced by the "Farewell to Welfare" Coalition (informally so dubbed by the President of Cheyney University), which was really fostered to life by the Delaware County Housing Authority. While this coalition fights endlessly for successful reverse commute options and funding, is continues to be hampered by institutional funding over community-based projects. It also suffers from the same statewide dilemma over the failure/inability to use state TANF surpluses for such projects. As for the DELCO TMA, it was awarded PENNDOT funding for its "Quicksilver" service. However, as presently structured, it will not successfully continue beyond the grant. While the overall strategy of Chester City connection to employers on Routes 1 and 352 is excellent, it suffers from:

    o Exclusive anchoring on larger buses that make more customized sub routes (and thus more "curb to point", "point to point" and "point to curb" strategies impossible).

    o The resultant longer commute times.

    o Minimal "value added" direct subcontracting to Delaware County Transportation Services.

    o The requirement that employers join the TMA and pay membership fees in order for their employees to ride the service, which discourages many from participating.

    o Routes missing the Wawa corporate headquarters and the Franklin Mint.

    o The loss of Sleighton School and the imminent loss of Brinton Manor as partners. Since HIS has thus far declined participation because of the required membership fee, this effectively renders the service in the end just for Fair Acres, the county retirement home, without any corporate partners. (In contrast, EmployeeExpress has developed partners with QVC, Genesis Health Ventures [including Brinton Manor and two other major Delaware County LTC centers], White Horse Village, Bryn Mawr Rehab and IHS.

    o The Greater Philadelphia Works strategy is problematic. Transitional pass subsidies that are based on time passing rather than income increasing make no sense. If a client is not earning more at the end of the two month period, they can no more afford the pass than they could at the beginning of the two month period. Most might experience at most a $.25 increase in that amount of time -- not the over $1.00 that they will need on average to make up the difference. The phase-out should be based on achieving necessary income increases to cover the costs with some form of incentive versus penalty. Our experience that "budget management" is not the key here.

    o While there is a fleeting reference to the airport metroplex as City and SEPTA have increased service to, in and around the airport, no where is this service need developed into the job sharing concept that we have proposed that we feel is so desperately needed.

    o Since the referenced GRH programs are TMA managed, they again are only services offered to members. This denies this service access to the huge population working for non-member companies without a governmental-sponsored substitute.

    o As for the Transportation Strategies and Recommendations, the report properly characterizes that WAWA study on self-sufficiency standards in PA, but goes on to not point out that the referenced 10 to 13 percent of household budget expenses for transportation in the study is drawn on a zone 1 transpass only! Few clients only use just a zone 1 pass; pay higher rates as they can only cash manage weekly versus monthly passes and such computations do not include the occasional other use of transportation (such as taxis).

    o Child care transportation links are excellent ideas and long overdue. However, locating child care resources near or in transit hubs doesn't help with pre-school after school. It doesn't help with the demand shifts on shift jobs that require coverage when transit does not run.

    o The "Mobility Manager" concept is excellent. We would like to see that extended to such persons actually riding with employees on employee express networks.

    o We do not understand the reasoning behind the philosophy that "initiatives should maximize use of the region's transit system" and that "projects that result in more riders for (the public transit operators should be) favored over projects that create a parallel transportation system for TANF-recipients (and we assume the working poor) only." This is part of what we feel is the institutionalized reasoning flaw at the heart of the document. The fact is that public transportation in an old city as Philadelphia takes many through and where they no longer need to go. The "spoke and hub" fails in the new economic reality as the need increases for inter-county and inner-county transit resources. This is why the commute-time and expense surveys are so dramatic. With the exception of aforementioned feeder transportation that takes a rider to public transportation that will take them to their job or vice versa, parallel non-system connected networks are the most efficient in terms of time, convenience and expense of all possible options. They just defy the "all under one roof" seductive simplicity of an interconnected mega-regional system.

    o Marketing of Transit Checks is a great idea, but one must recognize many employers who do not feel they are adequately served by public transit (e.g. Boeing, Genesis) will decline in favor of more direct payments to targeted employee express networks.

    o The idea of a dedicated PR tax to support a dedicated transit fund is excellent. This is an idea that is functioning well in the Cities of Chicago and Portland, where in a rather sizeable area of downtown, riders can get on and off circulating and crossing transportation free of direct charge.

    o We support the notion that TANF-only ridership vehicles make little sense. However, this is not the same conclusion as discouraging parallel systems not directly connected to public transit systems. While we also understand the concern that TANF charges need to be protected from costs associated with non-TANF riders, all systems are moving to a cost-per-rider methodology that can permit discreet billing with reasonable audit standards for per unit cost determination. However, it should be noted that the MOCS/American Street Corridor service that was approved by DVRPC is the very type of non-blended service this section of the report discourages. Also, regardless of the desire to protect TANF against inappropriate charges, our experience has been and continues to be that service can't be billed for TANF riders regardless. There is no set approved mechanism in PA in place yet to permit this, regardless of the clear eligibility to use funds for this purpose; the inadequate and decreasing availability of Access to Jobs resources and the number of clients who are not obtaining employment because of the lack of transportation services.

    o Regardless of the Charitable Choice option of the Welfare Reform Act (PRWORA), there is only a fleeting reference in the report partnerships with faith-based organizations, while they sit with substantial resources of underutilized vehicles and volunteers. After legions of rhetoric and promises from numerous state, local and quasi-governmental representatives, there has been no progress in PA on either insurance or PUC obstacles.

    o There is no mention in the report of the use, advantages and strategies surrounding alternative fuel vehicles.