Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Our recent page devoted to the public transportation mess in Clayton County prompted some thoughtful replies. Today, a former state highway executive says Clayton needs to establish a privately operated bus system, while a local lawyer discusses how longer commutes — those typically endured by low-income residents — can make job applicants less appealing to potential employers because they impact workplace turnover.
Commenting is open.
By Bob Dallas
I applaud former state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam and County Commission Chairman Jeffrey E. Turner for their leadership in seeking to re-create the Clayton County transit system. They correctly observe how destructive it was to citizens and employers when in 2010 transit services were eliminated due to budgetary constraints. This impact not only affects Clayton County but all of metro Atlanta, as needed workers are unable to get to where the jobs are. The impact on jobs, education and health will continue until reasonable transit options are available.
While transportation leaders are working to address regional transit options for the future, the Clayton’s County needs are for today, not just tomorrow. Unfortunately, absent an infusion of substantial federal or state subsidies or additional taxes, such as DeKalb and Fulton counties’ MARTA penny sales tax, sufficient traditional transit funds are not available to re-create a system that addresses the needs of citizens and employers.
But with challenges come opportunity. My recommendation is the Clayton County Commission engage professional transit planners to develop a request for quotes for a privately operated transit system. As Chairman Turner aptly noted, transit in Clayton should initially meet basic needs, not wants, of citizens and employers. I add that it should take into account rider costs to keep it affordable, and take advantage of available grant programs to provide subsidizes where appropriate.
With county commission oversight, the new transit system should be privately operated to ensure effectiveness and efficiency so that it may be sustainable. In other parts of metro Atlanta, we already see private bus operators picking up passengers in selected employment corridors, so we know it’s possible. Clayton’s transit would be similar, but pursuant to a broader countywide and properly coordinated transit plan.
In essence, the new system would follow the private-public partnership model Gov. Deal has championed to provide interstate highway congestion relief. Under that model, new toll lanes are added to increase capacity and reliability. Over 50 percent of new interstate lanes’ construction and maintenance are paid for with public funds; the balance is paid by the private sector and users of the tolled roads.
Instead of the private sector investing in road construction, in Clayton, capital would be used to purchase buses and related infrastructure. Instead of vehicle tolls, passenger fares would cover operational costs. While subsidies would still be required, subsidies are also required to pay for the tolled roads. The advantage of the public-private partnership model is the subsidies are significantly smaller.
As metro Atlanta moves forward developing regional transit, Clayton’s new system will serve as a role model and partner. Clayton’s leaders have the opportunity to create a transit system that works for today with tomorrow in mind. So let’s all get on board with the county’s leaders and support their efforts.
Bob Dallas, former director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, is chairman of the Dunwoody Planning Commission.
By Roland Behm
Some 60 percent of American workers earn hourly wages. Of these, about half change jobs each year. The cost to U.S. businesses of worker attrition and lost productivity is $350 billion annually, according to Evolv, a workforce science company.
What do many employers do to address the employee turnover issue? They retain workforce science companies to administer personality tests and analyze applicant data.
Kenexa, an IBM company, in 2011 tested more than 30 million applicants for thousands of clients. Kenexa believes that a lengthy commute raises the risk of attrition in call-center and fast-food jobs. It asks applicants for those jobs to describe their commute by picking options ranging from “less than 10 minutes” to “more than 45 minutes.”
The longer the commute, the lower their recommendation score for these jobs. Applicants also can be asked how many times they have moved; people who move more frequently have a higher likelihood of leaving.
Low-income families tend to move much more frequently than their higher-income neighbors and the general population. A 2011 study showed that a wide range of complex forces appeared to drive residential instability in general: the formation and dissolution of households, an inability to afford one’s housing costs, loss of employment, lack of a safety net, and lack of quality housing or a safer neighborhood.
Painting with the broad brush of distance from work, commute time and moving frequency may result in well-qualified applicants being excluded. (The Kenexa insights are generalized correlations; they say nothing about any particular applicant.)
Are there any groups of people who have longer commutes and move more frequently than others? Yes: lower-income persons who, according to the U.S. Census, are disproportionately black, Hispanic and the mentally ill.
Through the application of these “insights,” many low-income persons are electronically redlined, meaning employers will pass over qualified applicants because they live (or don’t live) in certain areas, or because they have moved. The reasons for moving do not matter — whether it is to find a better school for their children, to escape domestic violence, or as a consequence of job loss due to a company shutdown.
When Clayton County killed its bus system in 2010, it had nearly 9,000 daily riders. Many of those riders used the service to commute to their jobs. The transit shutdown increased commuting times, as persons had to find alternate ways to get to work, and increased housing mobility, as persons relocated in order to be closer to their jobs to mitigate the commuting time. Through no fault of their own, they were made less employable by the many companies who use workforce science companies.
Achieving the American dream is hard enough without being furthered burdened by the “dictatorship of the data” — letting data govern us in ways that may do as much harm as good.
Roland Behm is a lawyer who lives in Sandy Springs.