Transportation Service Faces Uncertain Future

Delnita King supports her two teenage children with a job as a vendor at Home Depot. When the engine of her 1999 Buick died in August, King couldn’t afford to make repairs so she walked the three miles to and from her apartment.

“I could not lose my job. My family needed this money,” King said. “I had no choice but to walk, but there were days I didn’t think I could make it. I knew I couldn’t keep walking forever.”

When she learned about Ride2Work, an Arlington program that provides transportation to low and moderate-income Arlington residents, she jumped at the opportunity. So have dozens of others.

In less than a year, the program has soared in popularity, providing a much-needed service in Arlington and even surpassing expectations of organizers.

“If people have transportation, they can get to a job, earn money and achieve stability for themselves and their families,” said Lyndsay Mitchell, planning project manager for Arlington. “This is helping people get on their feet and support themselves.”

But Ride2Work now faces an uncertain future as funding dries up and it could end by February 2012.

The program began in January of this year with a $365,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration. As a requirement of the grant, the city must provide matching funds, which initially came from the Community Development Block Grant. As the program grew in popularity the money dwindled faster than expected.

So far this year, Ride2Work has served about 100 Arlington residents and completed more than 5,000 trips, far more than the 3,500 projected for the entire first year. About 160 people are on a waiting list.

“It took off like wildfire,” said Paula Lewis, who supervises the service’s drivers. “There was even more need than we thought.”

In Arlington, 86 percent of riders have household incomes below the federal poverty level, which is $22,350 a year for a family of four. The average household income for a Ride2Work user is $18,800.

“It is serving the poorest of the poor, people who would have no other way to get to work,” Mitchell said. “This is a lifeline for many people.”

Clients pay $2 per trip and are typically referred to the program by partner agencies, such as Mission Arlington, Arlington Life Shelter and the Salvation Army. The city contracts with the American Red Cross, which runs the vans.

To continue the program through 2014, the city needs an additional $274,000. Officials are now applying for grants and looking for other funding opportunities.

King says for her, Ride2Work has been a lifesaver. “It has made a world of difference,” said King. “I still have my job, and that’s what matters.”