BEACHWOOD -- Employers and employees in this growing suburb will get a much-needed transportation boost on Monday, April 17, 2000.
That's when three area agencies will begin a vanpool service that will make it easier for employers to find and retain workers, and workers to find jobs. The three agencies are:
- Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA).
- Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA).
- Beachwood Chamber of Commerce.
"It is our hope that transportation will never again be perceived as a barrier to employment in Beachwood," says Joe Calabrese, CEO/General Manager of RTA.
History of the issue
About two years ago, employers told the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce that they were concerned about job access for low-income, transit-dependent workers. They believed that transportation was often a challenge for potential transit-dependent workers. Existing bus service could not take workers close enough to their job site, or the transfers from one bus to another was believed to be too time-consuming.
Transportation was a barrier to hiring and retaining qualified entry-level workers, some employers believed.
Now, that should change.
In December 1998, the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce formed the Beachwood Transportation Management Organization (BTMO) to address these transportation issues.
Working with RTA and NOACA, it was determined that a vanpool shuttle service, supplementing regular transit service, would provide a solution.
NOACA provided $10,000 in start-up funds for the vanpool shuttle service, and the agency has high hopes for the project.
"NOACA hopes that what has been accomplished in the Beachwood area will serve as a model for other communities where transportation has been a problem in attracting and keeping employees," says Howard Maier, NOACA Executive Director.
RTA's involvement is extensive. Through a federal grant that came to RTA through the Cuyahoga County Commissioners, RTA will provide $24,000 in start-up costs to reimburse the BTMO for such items as the salary of the driver, and vehicle insurance. RTA also purchased the 14-passenger van, and will reimburse the BTMO for gas and maintenance costs.
RTA will benefit from increased rail ridership, as most employees using the vanpool service are expected to come from the light-rail Blue Line. Participants in the program are expected to purchase a RTA monthly express pass ($54) through their employers. Employers are being strongly encouraged to participate in RTA's Commuter Advantage program, which offers tax benefits to both the employer and employee.
The BMTO will contract with a private operator to run the service. Employers will pay a membership fee to participate in the program, and the employers -- not the individual employees -- will call the vanpool operater for service.
It is anticipated that once the vanpool service is up and running, membership fees from participating organizations will cover some of the expenses now being paid by RTA.
"In the future, I am confident this program will grow quickly," says Ron White, Executive Director of the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce and the BTMO. "We have purposely tried to keep this program small at first so we can manage it properly. As soon as we are satisfied that all the procedures are in place, we have employers waiting to join."
"Our community is changing, and we know we have to look at new, innovative and different solutions," White says. "We are delighted that these agencies have all worked together to solve the transit needs of our business community."
White says that initially, the vanpool will be geared to the hospitality industry. Employees who work irregular shifts or late hours should appreciate the vanpool service, he says.
NOACA is the metropolitan planning organization for Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina, Lake and Geauga counties. NOACA's goal is to improve the region's transportation system, and facilitate commuter mobility to jobs, shopping and entertainment.
NOACA established the RIDESHARE! Commuter Services program in 1988. RIDESHARE promotes car pooling, van pooling and transit usage. Shared commuting reduces traffic congestion on our region's highways and byways, and benefits air quality.
RIDESHARE! has always offered free car pool ride-matching services and van pool coordination services to the public. In the mid-1990s, the service began focusing on employment corridors. Staff contacted companies to enlist their support in sponsoring vanpools for their employees and encouraging incentives for their employees to try carpools and vanpools.
Since its inception, RIDESHARE! has worked in tandem with RTA to find transportation solutions for commuters in Northeast Ohio. The Beachwood area has been a "target market" for car and vanpool services since 1994.
Beachwood Chamber background
In 1991, the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce was formed to address the needs of the local business community with services and activities that promote community welfare, advance economic development, and advocate issues related to business. The organization has more than 400 members. Its motto is: "Our businesses' bottom line is our bottom line."
The mission of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is to enhance the quality of life in Greater Cleveland by providing outstanding, cost-effective public transportation services. RTA's motto: "Quality Service: Every Customer, Every Day."
RTA has been serving Cuyahoga County's 1.4 million residents since 1975. RTA's 3,000 employees operate 754 buses on 1,100 route miles, and 108 rail cars on 34 miles of track. More than 59 million passengers rode RTA's trains, buses, Community Circulators and paratransit vehicles in 1999. RTA works closely with other area transit agencies, such as the Brunswick Area Transit in Medina County, Laketran, Lorain County Transit (LCT), and the METRO Regional Transit Authority in Akron and Summit County.
RTA has created a Work Access program in cooperation with the Cuyahoga County Commissioners and is actively seeking effective ways to eliminate transportation barriers for former welfare recipients and other low-income persons. RTA is especially interested in working with other employer groups to create appropriate transportation partnerships to alleviate problems in fully staffing business operations.