Transportation is one of the major reasons for economic inequality, according to county leaders throughout the region who participated last Thursday in the United Way of Central Maryland’s virtual Realities of Inequity Series.
Leonard Parrish, director of community and economic development for Harford County, was joined by Mike Kelly, of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council; Cheri Cernak, of CRC Restaurants; and Joseph T. Jones Jr., of the Center for Urban Families; as they discussed the transportation challenges for people living in both urban and rural areas, as well as solutions to break down transportation barriers.
In Harford County, about 55% of people who use public transportation use it for employment, according to Parrish. The transit system, however, leaves many stranded or running late to work, he said.
“We try to help small businesses work with their employees with transportation,” Parrish said. “Employers were surprised about the schedule of the transit system for employees.”
The county’s public transit system, Harford Transit LINK, has expanded its bus schedule from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. to better meet the needs of workers, Parrish said. Harford also is looking into other ways to improve the system, like considering implementing a weekend service, staggering start times for drivers and employing more drivers, Parrish said.
The county has taken the first step toward improving transportation by recognizing the need for more routes to and from the Perryman Peninsula since the area is a hub for many businesses and has “the route we adjust the most,” Parrish said.
The major key, Parrish said, is to employ more drivers, but the county government is competing with various companies and Harford County Public Schools for drivers. Currently, commercial driving is the number-one job need in Harford County, according to Parrish. The expanded transit system schedule is a step in the right direction to balance the economic inequality in the community, but it’s still missing a vital group of the county’s citizens.
Child care workers and restaurant servers are among those who are still at a disadvantage because of their schedules, all of the local leaders said in the session. By the time they get off work, they no longer have transportation to get back home.
“How do we get people from where they live to where they work and back?” Parrish asked.
This session was the 10th session in the series. The previous series covered topics like the impact of the pandemic on working women, eviction prevention in the pandemic, ongoing and new needs in mental health, digital access and more.