Joblinks Project Transports Kansas City Workers to Suburban Jobs

In Kansas City, the Joblinks project provides public transportation services from the Enhanced Enterprise Community within the City to the “labor deficit” areas of adjacent Johnson County. A goal of the project is to decrease dependence on public assistance and Unemployment Compensation benefits due to lack of access to employment opportunities. A partnership of local public and private organizations and private sector interests supports the job matching elements of the project.

Kansas City, Kansas has succeeded in taking a U.S. Department of Transportation Joblinks grant through a first-year demonstration into a second year, and planned third year, of operation, supported entirely by the local community.

Goals – The primary goal of the Joblinks project – started in May 1997 with a $90,000 Federal Transit Administration grant – was to establish public transportation services from the City to employment destinations in the "labor deficit" areas of Johnson County. The route was to serve the Enhanced Enterprise Community in Kansas City, initially in the morning and during afternoon peak hours. A secondary goal was to create a partnership of local public and private organizations and private sector interests; the steering committee for the effort included representatives of the City’s Department of Public Works, Johnson County Transit, the Chamber of Commerce of Merriam (a community in Johnson County), the Labor Deficit Task Force, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the United Way’s Streets to Work program, and other organizations with specific roles in the project’s development. Johnson County Transit, for example, was responsible for designing the service; the Chamber of Commerce and the State’s Social and Rehabilitation Services took the lead in holding job fairs; Public Works staff had oversight for the project and handled its administration.

Specific project goals were to 1) establish a daily transit service with pick-up in the City for Johnson County destinations; 2) establish schedules of operation suited to work schedules of northern Johnson County employers; 3) promote the establishment of fixed route service between the City and Johnson County business areas; and 4) decrease dependence on public assistance and Unemployment Compensation benefits due to lack of access to employment opportunities. The project also sought to obtain contributions from Johnson County employers toward ongoing operating expenses of the transit service, and continuation of the service beyond the demonstration period.

Start-up Activities – Initial activities following a February 11, 1997 kick-off meeting focused on the creation of partnerships among the organizations and businesses needed to bring the project to fruition. Much effort went into planning and holding job fairs; the metro-wide Job Fair ‘97 was held a month after the kick-off with over 200 employers participating and about 5,000 job seekers in attendance. This was the first of several job fairs held in the area, all of which were well attended. The project received a lot of coverage in local newspapers and some television news coverage as well.

Transit Service – The first transit service implemented – in response to requests from major employers in the Roeland Park area of the County – experienced poor ridership and was abandoned after a month. The second route implemented – servicing the A.J. Plastics Corporation in the Shawnee area – was more successful, in large part because company representatives actively recruited workers from the Kansas City target area; they canvassed neighborhoods in the Enhanced Enterprise Community, announcing that interviews were being held at the Kansas Job Service or Social Rehabilitation Service offices.

The route serving A.J. Plastics opened late-August; the following month, seven-day-a-week service was initiated for a new Super Target store. A third route was started to support a small domestic business, Maids of Johnson County; this service was developed in cooperation with the United Way’s Street to Work program, was supported by a monthly subsidy to United Way from Joblinks, used Head Start vans and Americorps volunteer drivers.

The early months of the Joblinks demonstration did not achieve all of the service goals that originally had been set. Three routes had been established to serve employers, but rides-per-day were lower than expected, due primarily to the fact that employers such as Super Target increase hiring during holiday periods and cut back on employees at other times. Still, between August and December, average daily ridership increased by 486 percent, monthly ridership by more than 700 percent, rides per vehicle hour by 223 percent, and rides per vehicle mile by 200 percent. During this period, the cost per ride dropped by 73 percent.

Ridership in the 1998 demonstration period has been stable: In January, 814 rides were provided; in February, 895 rides; in March, 1,090 rides; in April, 904. Joblinks officials say that, despite a slower-than-expected start-up, the trend lines are heading in the right direction. They also say that the future of the project became more secure when some of the employers started paying transit fares for their employees until their first or second paychecks were issued.

Lessons Learned -- The steering committee reports some important lessons learned during the demonstration phase of the project: First, their initial focus on hospitality industry employers was unsuccessful because of the temporary nature of the jobs in this low-wage industry. Working with employers that offer jobs with promotional opportunities was more productive. Also, employers are now required to physically recruit new employees at locations in the communities where the employees reside, as opposed to requiring prospective workers to apply at the company’s facility. This kind of recruiting, in the committee’s view, demonstrates an employer’s commitment to the goals of the program.

Local Support -- In October 1997, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas was established. While the name and structure of local government changed, support for Joblinks remained steady. Recognizing the popularity of Joblinks and the contribution it is making to the area economy, the Unified Government budgeted $110,000 for its continuation in 1998, and $112,000 for 1999. Officials will be meeting soon with employers now being served to arrange for them to begin paying subsidies to the project – now known as Joblinks II. In addition, several other major employers in the area have contacted the project recently to request transit service for their work sites. Momentum, it appears, is building.

"Transportation, especially for the unemployed seeking jobs or job training, is vital," says Carol Marinovich, Mayor/CEO of the Unified Government. "The public-private partnership demonstrated in the Joblinks II project has shown coordination between transit providers, municipalities, social service agencies and employers in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties, and residents have benefitted from this successful endeavor."

 Contact: Marcia Bernard, Director of Transportation, Kansas City, Kansas, (913) 573-5311

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