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Driver shortages and gas prices force ride-to-work program to end service in Syracuse

The van for Providence Services of Syracuse stopped by the side of the road.
Scott Willis
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A unique ride-to-work program aimed at those with limited transportation options will end operations barring a last-minute infusion of funding or drivers. Providence Services of Syracuse just couldn’t withstand the combination of the pandemic, high gas prices, and labor challenges.

The shuttle service was the brainchild of Deborah Hundley and other creative minds about a decade ago.

Nine years ago, we began, and saw how difficult it really is to be poor, trying to get a job and how do you get there.”

Providence Services was a part of WAERs first City Limits podcasts on poverty a few years ago. Workers without cars were having a hard time getting to jobs at locations or times not served by public transportation.

I’ve met people who had nothing. They’re told get a job, and they get a job. They have no bus passes, they have no money, they don’t have food. But they have to somehow do that. In our world, we put them on and take them. But we won’t be able to do that if we’re not operating.

She charged six dollars a ride, and the cost was sometimes picked up by employers. Hundley said that shows how important they felt the service was to their business.

Some of the companies we transport to say they have a really hard time hiring because people don’t have transportation. If we go down, then it will hurt their business as well.

Hundley said the idea was to give workers a chance to earn enough money to buy a car. She recalled a group of guys she recently transported a bit farther than her service area.

They got a car. You just get a sense to push push push them. I mean, they were saving money for it. They have a car. They have a permanent job now. And they’ve made it now. They’ve made it.

That’s one of the dozens of success stories. Hundley figures she’s served about 600 people over the years. She worries about what will happen to the workers and the employers who depend on the service.

I don’t know how it’s going to work because we filled a big gap. And companies need workers.

Hundley said the glaring disparities in access to transportation, and therefore jobs aren’t unique to Syracuse, or even the country.

If we want to be a country that has equality as far as opportunity, there has to be this piece of the pie available.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.