On February 21 and 22, 2019, CTAA staff traveled to Kent County, Md., and met with community stakeholders to identify the most promising opportunities to develop and grow workforce related mobility options. As residents of the rural area of the eastern shore of Maryland, many of Kent County’s community members have to travel significant distance to access services, employment, or resources either within the small city of Chestertown, or outside of the county in larger urban centers as far away as Annapolis or even into Delaware. Reaching these destinations can be a struggle for those who lack access to a vehicle as transportation options are distant and infrequent.
Transportation plays a fundamental role in improving access to economic empowerment opportunities for local residents. Nearly 31 percent of Kent County residents qualify as members of Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) families. And while the County is experiencing an increasing supply of living wage jobs and community development, there is a gap in accessibility between these jobs and local residents. These facts, highlighted in a 2017 Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA), along with initial discussions with Chesapeake Charities staff, and a review of existing and promising local partnerships, resulted in the selection of workforce development related transportation as the focus of the project.
CTAA met with over ten different community stakeholder groups during the staff’s two-day visit, and identified a number of key insights regarding the transportation opportunities and barriers around workforce related transportation. While limited, there are a number of public transit, human service transportation, and private transportation services within Kent County. Despite the existence of a number of providers, many community residents view the current system as fragmented and failing to meet the needs of county residents. This is largely due to a lack of awareness around available options, the fact that existing fixed-route service runs at times that often do not align with community needs (workforce or otherwise), and the rural nature of the community means that often residents are challenged in accessing fixed route pick up locations. As a result, both potential employees and county employers face challenges around aspects like covering third shift workers and reaching rotating job sites.
It must also be noted that while transportation is a clear barrier to employment access in Kent County, there seems to be an equal barrier to entry regarding workforce skills and education. While not in CTAA’s area of expertise, staff picked up on the need for additional research and support focused on the creation of and access to educational opportunities in the County such as vocational education programs, workforce development in local school systems, and the creation of pipelines to support the training of new skilled workers for employers in the region.
There are a number of existing resources and partners within Kent County that are aware of transportation issues as challenges to achieve local goals. By leveraging these partners, and understanding the complex challenges that feed into workforce development such as access to training and education, local stakeholders can take advantage of the community support to address these challenges for residents, and improve their access to employment opportunities in the region.
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.