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County program starts with 3 firms using Lyft to get JOBSplus clients to work

By Eric Reinhardt

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Sarah Merrick (at podium), commissioner of the Onondaga County Department of Social Services - Economic Security, addresses the media as the county announced a pilot program with Lyft as a transportation provider for its JOBSplus clients. Officials announced the program at Brophy Services Inc. at 1972 Teall Ave. in the town of Salina. Pictured (from left to right) are Kim Townsend, president and CEO of Loretto; Matt Rodriguez, general manager for Lyft in the New York area; Merrick at podium; Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon; and Eileen Brophy, president of Brophy Services Inc. (ERIC REINHARDT / BJNN)

SALINA — The struggle historically for small businesses that employ lower-wage workers is needing their employees to have a car to get the job, while the employees need the job to get the car. That’s according to Eileen Brophy, president of Brophy Services Inc. 

Public-transportation options like buses don’t completely fill the void. But the growth of ride-sharing services is providing another option to get those workers to their job sites. 

“With the creation of transportation services such as Lyft, we now have an opportunity to work with the county, the city, and the state to put that population that hasn’t been able to get those jobs back to work,” she said.

She’s “excited to be part of the solution,” she added in her remarks to open a Sept. 12 news conference in which Onondaga County announced a pilot program with Lyft as a transportation provider for its JOBSplus clients.

San Francisco, California–based Lyft has drivers in the Syracuse and Central New York area.

JOBSplus will be working with three employers — Brophy Services, Loretto, and Giovanni Food Co. Inc. — to start the pilot program, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said in discussing how the initiative works.

Officials announced the program at Brophy Services at 1972 Teall Ave. in the town of Salina. 

JOBSplus is a contractor of Onondaga County Department of Social Services - Economic Security (DSS-ES), per its website. JOBSplus serves individuals that have qualified for temporary assistance, or what people know as welfare,” Sarah Merrick, DSS-ES commissioner, said during the event. 

“One of the biggest challenges for our small businesses … and for our folks who are really trying to develop a pathway out of poverty is transportation,” McMahon said in his remarks.

The employment opportunities are either for non-traditional hours or in locations where Centro does not have an existing bus route, he noted.

“[Centro] does not work every hour,” said McMahon. “That’s an important gap that needs to be filled.”

Kim Townsend, president and CEO of Loretto, also stressed the need for convenient employee transportation.

“So many of Loretto’s employees rely on public transportation to get to and from work … It’s not available 24 hours a day and it’s not available in all of our locations,” Townsend said in her remarks during the event. “We see this program as a bridge to our employee car-buying program, which will help people achieve financial stability and independence.”

How it works

JOBSplus coaches will work with eligible temporary-assistance clients to estimate the cost of Lyft routes from home to work and back, McMahon said in explaining the program.

If clients need to drop off their children at child care, that will also be included in the Lyft estimate, he added. 

Then, based on the client’s verified work schedule, the Lyft administrator will request and schedule rides. Lyft will provide a ride quote and at the end of the month, the company will email JOBSplus an invoice for the actual cost of the ride for each participant.

“When someone is on public assistance, 100 percent of those costs are paid by the county. It’s already part of the temporary assistance budget,” said Merrick. 

“It’s a new partner. It’s not a new cost,” McMahon noted, referring to the pilot program with Lyft. 

Onondaga County is “starting small” with the pilot program, beginning with three employers.

“Hopefully over the next three months, we can employ about 50 temporary-assistance clients,” said Merrick. “The idea is to perfect a model that then can be expanded to other employers.” 

Lyft’s ultimate objective is to provide the “world’s best transportation experience,” but that’s “not something that we can do alone,” Matt Rodriguez, Lyft’s general manager in the New York area, said in his remarks.

“This is why we have over 40 transit partnerships with government agencies [and] transportation agencies across the country,” said Rodriguez. 

This pilot program is “the first of its kind” in New York, the Lyft manager added.

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