FRTA, MassHire hope van service will create thriving workforce

  • The Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) garage on Deerfield Street in Greenfield. Staff FILE Photo/Melina Bourdeau

Staff Report
Published: 3/30/2020 2:16:05 PM

GREENFIELD — A worker or someone seeking a job can often get to a second shift position on a Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) bus at 4 p.m., but would have no way to get home at 11 p.m., or to start a third shift job at that hour. Often, a transportation barrier makes a job seeker not want to apply altogether.

That’s a problem that the FRTA and the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board hope to solve with an on-demand van service that transports workers employed at partner companies. A $278,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), awarded on Feb. 5 will support the service for one year.

According to a MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board press release, the core technology enabling the pilot program is an app that allows customers to schedule on-demand van pick-ups each day, similar to an Uber ride. Unlike Uber, however, the app must run an algorithm each day to design the most efficient route to get a shifting group of up to a dozen workers from their homes to multiple job sites on time.

“The one-year grant allows us to test the app, gather data, and determine how large the demand is for this service and how wide a region we can serve,” said FRTA Assistant Administrator Michael Perrault. “There are a lot of variables. We are grateful to MassDOT for this funding to give us at least a year to figure out how this can work best.”

The crucial shift change is the end of second shift and beginning of third shift at 11 p.m. The van service will make it possible for job seekers with transportation challenges to secure jobs on later shifts, where a lot of new hiring takes place, and for workers on those shifts to keep their jobs when they run into car trouble, the release states.

A second part of the grant will fund the extension of regular bus service in Franklin County to 9 p.m., which will assist regular riders as well as workers trying to get to jobs with a 12-hour night shift.

“Both the workforce board and the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center meet many job seekers who lack transportation to get to work,” said Andrew Baker, special projects coordinator at the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board. “Until these folks know they have a reliable way to get to and from a second or third shift job, they tend not to apply. This potential workforce will only become visible and available to employers when we offer a reliable transportation option.”

The workforce board and career center plan to work with multiple non-profit partners — Community Action Pioneer Valley, the Center for New Americans, The Literacy Project, Greenfield Community College and temp agencies — to advertise the new van service throughout the year at job fairs, social service agencies and education sites, according to the release.

To secure the MassDOT grant, the FRTA teamed up with the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board to recruit 10 health care and manufacturing companies and five other funding partners to raise the $23,500 in local matching funds required.

Ten Franklin County employer partners have pledged $500 each in matching funds to get the van service experiment off the ground. They include: Baystate Franklin Medical, BETE Fog Nozzle, Buckley HealthCare Center, Charlene Manor Extended Care, Charter NEX Films, Farren Care Center, Hillside Plastics, Mayhew Steel Products, Pelican Products, SWM International and Yankee Candle Villages. These companies collectively employ about 3,500 workers.

According to the release, crucial funding partners for the project include the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Franklin First Federal Credit Union, Freedom Credit Union, Greenfield Cooperative Bank and Greenfield Savings Bank, which together pledged $18,000 of the $23,000 in matching funds needed to secure the Mass DOT grant.

“Without the strong backing of our local financial institutions and community foundation, we could not have assembled a competitive grant application,” concluded Patricia Crosby, executive director of the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board. “This is a project and a group of people and companies we have been trying to help in this way for many years. We are tremendously grateful for the support of these funding partners and MassDOT in making this project happen.”

The partners will announce an official launch event for the van service program once the $278,000 in funding has been released.

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