In November 2019, the Chicago Jobs Council distributed transportation issue surveys to our members (providers of workforce development and other community services) and our Transit Table coalition (advocates working to eliminate transportation barriers that keep people out of work and in poverty). 

Community based workforce development providers have a unique insight into what makes the difference in someone’s efforts to secure and keep employment. Our members are collaborating with job seekers and people looking for better jobs across the region. However, the results are neither comprehensive nor scientific. Workforce service providers cannot stand in as proxy voices for all people and all communities.

Scientific or not, the responses are part of an ongoing conversation in the region, and they confirm some things we’ve thought about for years at the Chicago Jobs Council:

  • Transportation barriers are employment barriers. 
  • Public transit does not meet the needs of all in the Chicago region, particularly on the West side, South side, and suburbs.
  • Car ownership is prohibitively expensive for many, especially in light of excessive vehicle ticketing and collections, which land hardest on communities of color and low-income people.

Here is what we heard:

Public transit is insufficient on the South and West sides as well as the suburbs. More local service is needed with consistent, frequent schedules.

  • Transportation frequency, availability, and reliability on the South side, West side, and suburbs was a major theme in responses. When asked to rate routes to work/medical/school/other critical destinations, 60% said “public transit routes” were either “a problem” or “a huge problem.” 
  • When asked in an open ended question what they would magically change about transportation options or access in the region, 31% called for more frequent, available, and reliable transit service, particularly on the South and West sides of the city. In the same comments, 26% mentioned the need for increased transit to, from, and within the suburbs.
  • Respondents regularly cited the difficulty of getting anywhere besides the Loop, as well as the impact of long wait times for buses, and insufficient service at off-peak hours.
  • These challenges are exacerbated for people with disabilities. While the survey did not prompt a large volume of feedback about the issue, we know that many train stops remain inaccessible, rideshare services (a viable if expensive alternative for many) do not meet this need, and Pace Paratransit does not fill the gap. One respondent simply wrote: “I wish PACE Paratransit was more reliable and consistent for the individuals we serve.” 

“The issues my clients face is the cost of having to replace a free/discounted fare card for people with disabilities. How can a person that needs a free fare card afford to pay for a replacement? Also it is cumbersome to apply for a free fare card. Next, families that have children in CPS should not have to pay for transportation. Period. It is the only school district I am aware that does not provide transportation to students in the district.”

“Clients take jobs outside of Chicago then realize that public transportation will not get them all the way to work and they need to walk several blocks or miles to get to the job, or public transportation does not run early enough to get to work on time or late enough for them to get home.”

For many, public transit is not affordable. 

When asked what they would change about transportation options or access in the region if they had a magic wand, 34% mentioned reducing or eliminating public transit costs as a top priority. Many said they would like to see free public transit for everyone or for specific groups such as youth or veterans. 77% reported it was either “a problem” or “a huge problem” that people cannot afford public transportation. 

“Many of my residents have to pick between getting a weekly bus card and getting diapers for their children, they also can never get enough in the bank to get the monthly pass because they already live paycheck to paycheck.”

Car ownership is prohibitively expensive for many.

Given the lack of realistic public transit options to many job opportunities, driving is the best choice for many, but car ownership is expensive. When asked to rate how challenging a different series of issues was, 94% of respondents said inability to afford a vehicle was “a problem” or “a huge problem.” It was rated a “huge problem” by the most respondents, rated “not a problem” by zero respondents, and zero respondents said they “don’t know.”  

Beyond the expense of car ownership in and of itself, it is additionally costly considering the license suspension and ticketing issues in the following findings. 

“Many good paying manufacturing jobs in the suburbs– having a car is necessary to access them. Also, all trades unions require apprentices have a car to even apply. We’ve had trainees whose cars have mechanical issues and they can’t afford to fix it.”

“Many of our participants cannot get to job sites that are outside of the city. In the solar industry, most jobs are in rural areas.”

Suspended driver’s licenses continue challenging individuals and reducing providers’ impact.

71.6% reported hearing about job seekers negatively impacted by driver’s license suspensions, and comments were full of stories about the catch-22 created when someone cannot legally drive due to debts, and therefore cannot work to pay off the debts.

The top three suspension types rated as “a huge problem” in descending order were all for failure to pay:

  • Failure to pay parking and vehicle tickets (for example: no city sticker, brake light, etc)
  • Failure to pay traffic tickets (for example: speeding)
  • Failure to pay child support

Licenses are needed to get to many jobs, and to do many types of jobs; and dealing with a suspension and its underlying causes is a burdensome disruption on impacted individuals.

“I have clients with CDL truck drivers licenses that are suspended due to parking violations as well as unpaid child support; these individuals are not able to gain employment where they can effectively pay down their debt to the city to get their licenses back in order to work again.”

“The process of getting your license back after suspension is really complicated and can involve a lot of days off or having to change your work schedule around a lot after you already are having to take public transportation, making it more difficult and take longer to get to any one place.”

“Customers have lost licenses due to financial hardships, parking violations and unpaid child support. Inevitably the loss of license leads to loss of or inability to obtain employment. Too often the sustainable employment wage opportunity involve long commutes during off hours that lack public transportation service convenient to work hours or locations.”

Huge ticket debts are a major problem.

This was one of the most unifying challenges. When asked to rate how challenging one series of issues was, huge ticket debt came out on top. Eighty nine percent (89%) said it was either “a problem,” or “a huge problem.” It was rated a “huge problem” by the most respondents by far, rated “not a problem” by zero respondents, and the fewest respondents said “don’t know.”

The second worst rated challenge in this question was inadequate payment plans for tickets, which would not likely be necessary but for outsized underlying debts. Inadequate payment plans had the second most “huge problem” ratings, and it was the only other item with zero respondents rating it “not a problem.” (See questions below for more details.)

Chicago has counterproductive consequences for vehicle tickets; City hiring bans stand out as particularly unique.

Many of Chicago’s excessive ticketing and collections practices make vehicle ownership, and therefore transportation, more expensive. But one penalty for debts stands out as unique: “debt checks.” In Chicago, city employment and some other jobs like rideshare drivers, can be restricted based on ticket debts. Forty seven percent (47%) of respondents reported hearing about “job seekers negatively impacted by city hiring bans.” Presumably, city jobs and other jobs the City can block people from doing make up a very small percentage of the regional labor market. Given the small size of this pool of jobs in the overall economy, it is striking that half of respondents reported these work restrictions as a problem.

Transportation challenges take up a lot of providers’ time and attention.

Almost all of the results speak to this. Very few issues we asked about were rated as “not a problem” by respondents, and numerous comments make clear the negative impact of transportation challenges on providers’ ability to provide service. One striking piece of evidence of the impact transportation challenges have on the workforce system was the fact that half of respondents said they were interested in being more involved in the Transit Table coalition, though 24% said “yes, but I’m worried about having enough time.”

Distribution

The surveys were distributed to hundreds of workforce and social service providers in our member and partner network, and to dozens of Transit Table coalition members. 74 providers responded and 14 Transit Table coalition members responded. 

Select Question Results from Workforce Providers

Based on the frequency and severity of license suspension challenges you observe, how much of a problem are the following types of suspensions for your participants?

Based on the frequency and severity of ticketing, booting, and towing issues you observe, how much of a problem are the following types of suspensions for your participants?

Do you hear about job seekers with any of the following transportation challenges? Please rate how much of a challenge each issue is.