Providence Services offers 17 shuttles to work during the week and six on weekends. Most are filled to capacity
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
It’s a frustrating catch-22: you need a job to afford a car and you need a car to get a job.
That’s where Syracuse-based Providence Services of Syracuse Inc. steps in, providing low-cost door-to-door transportation for workers.
“The problem isn’t getting a job, it’s getting there,” said Deborah Hundley, Providence Services president. “Most people trying to get jobs that pretty much anyone can do can’t get there on time or even get there. They have no way to get home.”
Many people just starting out—or starting over—work jobs that have erratic schedules, which makes taking public transportation difficult sometimes. Many of these positions sporadically require staying late or working double shifts. This effect is especially complicated for those who must pick up their children from a sitter or daycare and deliver them to a relative or school and then dash back to work.
“Some people on our shuttles are in tears as they had been spending two-thirds of what they’re making getting to and from work on Uber,” Hundley said. “They’re not really making anything. We try to put people in a better position so they can feed their family and save some money instead of paying for Uber and then they can get a car. They don’t want to be on the dole, but there’s no way for people to get to and from work.”
Walking or riding a bike may help people who live near enough their workplace, but weather and safety can make these less-than-ideal choices. Hundley knows a man in Syracuse who would ride his bicycle 10 miles at night to work and back, regardless of weather, because that was his only option.
Sometimes, riding with coworkers may help supply transportation. However, that doesn’t always meet the need as workers must to find someone who lives close enough and who is willing to give them a lift.
“We want everyone to have a job and they want a job, but it’s not put together in a way that the pieces will actually work the puzzle,” Hundley said. “It’s hard for companies, too. We try to help get people to jobs and have companies that pay for the transportation, so they help people going to work. Everyone loves it. The workers know that someone will be at their house and taking them home at this time, even if they’re 20 minutes later working, they know they’ll get home.”
Providence’s drivers operate six vans, each of which can carry six passengers. It offers 17 shuttles during the week and six on weekends. Most are filled to capacity. Typically, she tries to arrange rides so that each van transports workers to the same or close by workplace. After their shift, a van picks them up and delivers them home. It costs $40 each way to transport up to six workers, which is less expensive and for companies than paying for rideshares.
Hundley founded Providence in 2009 as a response to the lack of transportation solutions for immigrants and others just starting out.
“Nobody believed that was the problem,” she said. “I bought the van. I had a driver. And we started picking up people that really needed transportation to be able to have a job.”
Over time, grants helped her purchase more vans to build her small fleet and offer more rides. As a nonprofit, Providence doesn’t have to pay for taxi insurance, but its plan is more costly than standard car insurance.
Initially, Providence tried picking people up from a congregant setting, but the bus stop model was not as effective as going to their homes, since getting to the pick-up point required walking in bad weather and sometimes potentially unsafe conditions. Providence has assisted 750 riders since its inception.
“If we’re not doing this, there’s no hope for people struggling to get to and from work,” Hundley said. “What we do is so important.”
Top image: A van operated by Providence Services of Syracuse Inc. gets workers at their homes and drops them off at their jobs. “If we’re not doing this, there’s no hope for people struggling to get to and from work. What we do is so important,” says founder of the nonprofit.