Think about how many jobs exist within a walkable two-mile radius of the corner of Park and Main Street in Hartford. That includes most of Downtown, but doesn’t reach the West End, East Hartford, West Hartford Center, Windsor, or Wethersfield. Now expand that radius to five miles, an easy biking distance in the same thirty minutes. The range of destinations, employers, programs, and opportunities increases as a function of the radius SQUARED. Yes. That’s dorky, but I’m a dork by training as a former engineer. (For fellow dorks, here is the link to make your own circles on maps.)
Now, you might think, “Can’t those folks just ride the bus?” And you are thinking that from the perspective of someone who hasn’t had to rely on the bus to get to work (or class) every single day. Consider that many of the jobs (or classes) happen at night, and most of Hartford’s bus system is set up like a juvenile Cinderella with a 7:30pm curfew. Getting off the late shift at a West Hartford Center would mean an expensive Uber/Lyft ride or an extremely long walk home. A savvy restaurant employee would take the bus to work and ride their bike back home (downhill) to affordable housing (or a homeless shelter) in Hartford (footnote #1). First that savvy employee would need a bike, a lock, and bike lights. We saw that recurring need in the Center’s programs and participants, and thus was born our Bikes for Jobs effort.
Bus transit is also an incomplete solution for many that work outside of Hartford, too far from the commuter bus stop or park-and-ride stop to reasonably walk. The last time I looked it up, 65% of working Hartford residents had jobs in our suburbs. If their car breaks down (a constant threat with older used cars) or a family emergency results in a late tax payment or unpaid car registration, that can mean a lost job. One of the most reliable ways to keep a person on a minimum wage salary poor, is to make it necessary for them to own, fuel, and maintain a car. Bicycles can provide that first mile / last mile connectivity via transit that someone in an entry level job needs to get a job. Even after they might buy a used car, the bicycle-transit combo provides the resiliency needed to keep getting to work.
What about that nifty LimeBike dockless bike share that’s coming to Hartford in May 2018? Oh heck yeah! We are excited about that. The problem is that it takes a smart phone (with data) and bank account to access those superb, human-powered $1 rides. A lot of our neighbors working part time and minimum wage jobs aren’t in the category of phone users with a reliable data plan. Many of the teens and adults we work with have a smart phone (of some generation or other), but they are hopping onto free Wi-Fi to make calls and send emails. Occasionally, they’ll have a pre-paid plan with data for a month or two, but that’s not the kind of consistency one needs when finding a reliable ride to daily work. Eventually, dockless bike share might figure out a workable cash-pay and non-smartphone combo, but we’re not waiting around while our neighbors are left with limited options.
When the BiCi Co. program at the Center for Latino Progress prototyped the Bikes for Jobs effort, we were only able to offer one or two bikes each month to folks referred from nearby shelters and transitional programs. We kept the advertising of the program to word of mouth because we couldn’t ramp up an unfunded program and swamp the other exciting BiCi Co. activities. The program was a quiet success. Referrals were happening (and spreading to other providers), and referred parties were excited to be getting a bicycle, lock, lights, and an optional helmet for just $20. Joseph Dickerson, BiCi Co. Program Manager, set up an automated referral link and Tony Cherolis, Transport Hartford Coordinator, wrote up a short grant proposal.
Late in 2017, we were excited to hear from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving that the Stanley D. and Hinda N. Fisher Fund loved the program and wanted to fund a year of operations. With that funding we will be able to provide up to 75 up-cycled bicycles, locks, and lights. The Fisher Fund was joined by the Alison and Nathaniel Howe Fund and the S. A. Johnson Family Fund, bringing the total funded Bikes for Jobs up to 97 (which should carry the program into 2019)! The CCMC Injury and Prevention Center sponsors the bike helmets. The grant funds also support the referral process and publicizing the program to local shelters, transition programs, community health centers, probation officers, and citizen re-entry programs. We continued operating the program quietly through the winter but knew that right now would be the ideal time to share the growth of the Bikes for Jobs program. What better time to announce right before we enter National Bike Month and National Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 18th. Stay tuned to the BiCi Co. Facebook page for Bike Month Announcements. You can also sign up for the BiCi Co. email newsletter.
Help us spread the word, by sharing this article or program info and links below. Each up-cycled bicycle (with lock and lights), does require a $20 payment but can be sponsored by the referring organization. The Center believes that the Bikes for Jobs participant should have “skin in the game” by making the payment or spending time earning the bike by participating in programming at the referring organization.
Footnote #1 – Affordable housing, shelters, transition programs, and the lack thereof, in our neighboring towns with large minimum wage retail centers are topics for a separate and uncomfortable later discussion. Hit Tony C up for beers, if you want an ear full.