Wheels to Work finds strong employer demand for transit services

Aug 25, 2017 No Comments by

Alliance member Hope Network in Grand Rapids, Michigan launched Wheels to Work in June of 2016 to address a gap in public transit services to Walker, a nearby suburb where many manufacturing firms are located. A year later, they have provided over 70,000 rides, connecting new hires and incumbent workers with over 15 participating employers, some of which have multiple plants.

As a provider of specialized transportation services for people with disabilities, Hope Network already had vehicles and dispatch software in place to coordinate the new service. Building from just 20 rides the first week, ridership has steadily grown, along with their service area which has expanded to encompass both Kent and Ottawa Counties. They continue to add two to three drivers every 30 to 60 days.

Wheels to Work picks up and drops off individuals at 70 hubs within Kent County, covering three major shifts and multiple off-time shifts, seven days per week. Their territory includes the pilot program in Walker, all of Grand Rapids and six surrounding cities, and Alto, a town about 25 miles southeast.

Employers in the Walker pilot program pay per trip for transportation services, while employers in the expansion areas are charged on an hourly basis, encouraging them to promote this benefit. Some employers include Wheels to Work information in their orientation packets or hold weekly “sign-ups.” Employees can use the service full time or opt in only as needed, when other transportation fails or during snowy weather.

All employers agree to pay 100% of the transportation costs for new hires until individuals receive their first paycheck. Some employers pay 100% of the transportation costs for workers’ first 30 to 90 days, or for the length of their employment with the company, as an incentive to attract talent. Hope Network bills employers, who in turn collect the employees’ cost share via payroll deduction. Employee riders are never charged more than $3.00 per trip.

Wheels to Work’s ridership is growing 2% to 4% per month, getting people to work on time, reducing turnover, and providing a reliable, affordable alternative for employees who were sometimes forced to use expensive cab rides or walk from distant bus stops.

Over the next two years, Hope Network plans to further expand its services throughout a seven-county region of southwest Michigan. Hope Network developed Wheels to Work in collaboration the Governor’s Office of Urban Initiatives, the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force, Disability Advocates of Kent County, The Rapid (the County’s public transit service), the City of Walker and area employers.

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