James Robinson made national news for his walking nearly 40 miles to work every day in the gritty city of Detroit. Strangers setup a fundraising account that amassed nearly $200,000 for him to buy a car. Robinson said he doesn’t make enough to afford a car. Being a seasoned alternative transportation professional, I am aware that federal funds exist to assist local governments establish rideshare programs for low-income persons. It didn’t surprise me to find that the Detroit Department of Transportation (DOT) received federal money and didn’t spend it on its intended purposes.
The Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) program is federally funded and is designed to subsidize transportation costs of low-income residents so they can either look for work and/or have a low-cost alternative. This program first began in Seattle with a partnership between Flexcar and King County Metro. The normal $8/hour rental would be reduced to $4/hour with the subsidy.
Related article: DDOT sat for years on millions in ride service funds
Flexcar was an hourly rental car service that provided 24/7 access to a decentralized fleet of cars. Back when Flexcar was in Los Angeles, then city councilman Mike Woo worked to establish the service to no avail. As I worked at UCLA Transportation Services, Flexcar was on-site to work in conjunction with their vanpool.
After leaving UCLA to work with Flexcar, we attempted a partnership with FAME Renaissance to mirror the JARC program and the subsidy instead went to the students at USC. The Seattle-based head office of Flexcar looked at a map and said “USC fell in the boundaries” so who cared. Well I did and started my own company. I still remain the only 100% minority owned car share business in the world.
After the program was established, those subsidies transferred to Flexcar’s new owners, Zipcar.
James Robinson didn’t have to walk miles in the cold because there was plenty of money to start a pilot program with Zipcar, who purchased Flexcar in November 2007.
In 2011, after Detroit DOT had received JARC funding for nearly seven years, Zipcar announced a partnership with Ford to bring reduced rate cost cars to college students. Ford agreed to subsidize the cost.
How does federal money designed to assist the poor, always ends up subsidizing the wealthy? Quite remarkable isn’t it? Where are the journalists when you need them?
The Detroit Department of Transportation received a total of $17.4 million in federal and state transportation funds in 2004-12 and didn’t start the program until summer of last year.