The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 22, 2013

Rush hour is our friend

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— Marci, the homeless lady, was seated to my right. Then there was Pam the homeless shelter lady, Tony the lawyer, Jeff the health care executive, Jim the inspector, Donna from the community foundation, the other Jeff from wood products manufacturing and me, Gary, also from wood products manufacturing, in a manner of speaking.

We were together to make an impact on transportation, although Marci was the only person present who seemed to be without.

Marci told her story — two jobs, three kids, no car, not enough money for taxis, striving to be independent. Then, Marci and Pam left to go look at an apartment and everybody else got down to the business of getting wheels for Marci.

Marci is not the only person in the Valley in need of an affordable ride. Providing transportation remains one of the toughest problems to solve, which is why our committee, more than most, was in need of a good crew.

This gathering was assembled by the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, which is trying to address human service needs in Snyder, Northumberland and Union counties.

There are similar councils (they are called impact councils) for quality early learning, at-risk teens, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and diversity.

These are broad topics that have been identified for years as difficult challenges in our communities.

The United Way is trying to identify, encourage and finance ideas that improve the social conditions associated with these challenges.

Straight up, these situations arise from poverty.

Poverty may not be the cause of every ill in society and there are intertwined consequences and circumstances. People can make themselves seriously poor by starting with addiction or become seriously dysfunctional if they experience abuse and marginalization. But once you find poverty, or poverty finds you, life’s road can be narrow and bumpy for a long time.

A circulation guy I worked with at a newspaper in New York had a saying he would cough up every time management identified something that needed to be fixed. “There are very few problems (pause) that money can’t solve.”

The meaning was clear: You give me the okay to spend some money, boss, and I will make this problem disappear.

The theory behind the United Way approach is that it is better to invest seriously in a few promising solutions than to keep under-investing in a status quo that may not be making much headway or is gradually losing ground.

We have some volunteer, public service and social support agencies that mean well, but which have fallen into the “nonprofit death spiral.”  At some point in the life cycle of the under-invested, under-endowed and under-subscribed, energy and attention that once provided value becomes absorbed in self-sustaining fundraising.

Without funds, value is hard to deliver. Without value, no one wants to donate or invest funds.

Compared to other needs, public transportation may sound somewhat bloodless, all nuts and bolts and cash flow.

But a surprising number of lives would be improved throughout the Valley if people could just get to work, health care, recreation, education, opportunity and association with each other more affordably and conveniently.

Rural public transportation is historically oxymoronic.

They call it “mass transit” for a reason. It can be steady mass, fluctuating mass or infrequent, but reliably crowded mass. At some point in the cycle of fixed route transportation, a sufficient volume of customers for tickets, tokens or tolls must materialize to help defray the cost of overhead and safety.

On the inky side of the ledger, rush hour is our friend.

But we believe there is a solution here somewhere, between Philadelphia’s transit authority and the Amish underground transport, there has to be a version of “dial-a-bus” that can be more available and responsive to rural communities. We already have it, somewhat, in USTA (Union/Snyder Transportation Alliance) and Rabbitt Transit in Northumberland County.

So, Tony, Jeff, Jeff, Jim, Donna and I are in the hunt. If you have ideas that will help, let us know. Drop me a line or dial in (570-988-5466). If you want to participate in this or other councils, call the United Way (570-988-0993).

Thanks for listening.