Hundreds of jobs available on mega-retail campuses like South Side Works and The Waterfront in Homestead won't amount to much for low-income workers if they don't have the wheels to get to these job sites. So say environmental-justice and public-transit advocacy groups, like the Pittsburgh Transportation Equity Project, which has been screaming about the problem for years, especially as the Port Authority struggles to find a permanent solution to its funding shortfalls.
Enter a new shuttle service called the Ship of Zion, five years in the making, which will transport would-be workers from impoverished communities to their jobs or job-training program sites. Three vans will run a route beginning in the Hill District and flowing through Hazelwood, Squirrel Hill, Homestead, Braddock and finally McKeesport. The service will be free of charge for those with jobs or training programs to reach -- even people just needing to fill out job applications. Riders can register at www.shipofzion.org, and receive a photo ID that allows them to use the services.
Long-time publictransit activist Richard LeGrande, a director of the independent Ship of Zion agency (whose name refers to a gospel hymn), says the project already has relationships with "a couple hundred" employers and at least 30 job-training centers. It also has support from the Pittsburgh Presbytery, and Rev. John Monroe of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Hill District.
The need, says LeGrande, comes from buses not being able to run routes they once ran, or ran more often - routes many workers from these communities may still need to work. Ship of Zion will run Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. the following morning, and 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays, beginning Sept. 1.
"We can't cover all of Allegheny County," says LeGrande, "but other faith-based entities can now say, 'This is how it's done, now let's go out and do the same thing in our area.'"