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Bringing the worker to job

The St. Petersburg Housing Authority will ask federal transportation officials to set aside nearly $260,000 for the creation of a bus service to link city residents with suburban jobs. Edward White Jr., director of the Housing Authority, will present plans for the "reverse commuter service" to members of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) at their meeting Wednesday. He is hoping the PSTA board will support his request for money.

"Residents of Jordan Park and the adjacent area, few of whom have access to private transportation, find it difficult if not impossible to get from south-central St. Petersburg to suburban job centers," White wrote in a summary of the proposal to PSTA members.

"While they struggle with the problem of transportation, suburban employers cannot find enough workers to fill entry-level jobs. A reverse commuter service represents a solution to both of these difficulties," he added.

The transportation service is part of an ambitious project sponsored by the Housing Authority and the Jordan Park Management Corp., which is run by residents of the 50-year-old housing project. Jordan Park has 446 apartments, two-thirds of which are rented by single mothers, according to the project proposal.

The plan also includes the provision of child care services to Jordan Park residents who cannot go to work because they are raising children. White hopes to open a child care center for 40 youngsters that would operate 24 hours, he said.

The bus service, still in the planning stages, would consist of eight 15-seat minibuses that would transport 250 Jordan Park residents to job opportunities outside south-central St. Petersburg, White wrote. The bus service would operate all day to accommodate residents working late shifts.

To begin the program, the Housing Authority will seek money from the federal government, which set aside grants for mass transportation projects through the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, said Larry Newman, executive director of the PSTA.

Gary Brosch, director of the Center for Urban Transportation Research in Tampa, said his group supports the idea, which has worked well in other regions.

"The concept, we think, is terrific," Brosch said.

In the last decade, the distribution of jobs in most areas has shifted from cities to suburbs, Brosch said. Ten years ago, 75 percent of all jobs were located in cities. The numbers now are reversed; most jobs can be found in suburbs.

"At the same time, transit systems have traditionally focused on getting people from the suburbs into town for jobs," Brosch said. "What we're finding is that now jobs are in the suburbs, and it's real hard for transportation systems to get people from town to the suburbs."

For example, White said, hotel and motel managers on the beaches complain they are unable to find help to cook and clean at their businesses. The PSTA does not have routes linking workers from south-central St. Petersburg with the beaches.

"They have no business service out there at all," White said. "In order to get the people from Jordan Park to the jobs, we are going to have to get involved in some sort of innovative reverse commuter service."