A reflection on pandemics, safety, mobility and equity

by RaKi Williams

The past few months have been hard for the Twin Cities. Our society has been plagued with disease, from a virus that attacks your immune system, to a virus that has long-infected our government system. First, the directive was, “stay at home” to be safe. Since many residents still had to go to work or run errands, staying home was not an option.

Unfortunately, as the city burned at the end of May and beginning of June, safety at home became a foreign concept.

Communities of color got the short end of the stick, as their pharmacies, grocery stores, auto shops, gas stations, and small businesses were vandalized, looted, and set ablaze. Now, with the nearest drugstore being 10 miles away, how was grandma to find her insulin? Transit seemed like a lost cause as bus and train frequencies were decreased and then completely halted from Thursday May 28th to June 1st in response to protests.

In light of all this, I began reflecting on what options the elderly and other members of the community had at this time to access key services. After scouting Metro Transit’s website I stumbled upon a program called Guaranteed Ride Home. These are basically reimbursed rides home for pre-registered employees. To qualify for these rides, you must have money to cover your emergency ride home, and an eligible emergency occur on a day you commuted to work by carpool, vanpool, biked, walked, or took transit.

Eligible trips include:

  • Personal illness or emergency medical issue
  • Sick child or dependent family emergency
  • Unplanned overtime
  • Regular car/vanpool unavailable

What trips are not eligible?

  • Personal errands
  • Trips to or from the airport, Amtrak or Greyhound station, unless this is your place of work. Expenses incurred traveling to the airport or Amtrak for a business trip do not quality for reimbursement.
  • Prescheduled trips, appointments, or work events
  • Non-commute related trips
  • Other trips deemed ineligible by Metro Transit

After reading this I wondered, “Is your guaranteed ride home really guaranteed?” Though the program seems great overall, I would like to suggest ways to make it better! When thinking of improvements, the first thing that comes to mind is equity. Plenty of service workers live from paycheck to paycheck. Is an emergency ride home really guaranteed if you cannot afford to pay for the cost of the ride upfront?

Perhaps this program could be enhanced by creating a fund that directly covers upfront costs for those workers who cannot afford to pay. Maybe it looks like a partnership with Lyft and Uber, where Metro Transit directly allocates a pool of dollars to either company specifically for guaranteed rides home.

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