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Wickliffe Transit Center
It was easy to forget, for a year or two, that The Fund for Our Economic Future's so-called "Paradox Prize" was, in fact, a prize.
The $1 million grant program was created in 2019 to fund micro-transit pilot projects across Northeast Ohio. These pilots would try to help solve a workforce paradox common in regions like ours, terminally afflicted with suburban and exurban sprawl: If you don't have a car, you can't get a job; but if you don't have a job, you can't buy a car.
Thursday evening at the Agora Theatre, the Fund celebrated the achievements of the eight pilot projects and crowned a grand prize winner.
Lake County's public transit agency Laketran won the top prize, which comes with a $25,000 financial award, Laketran initially received a $75,000 grant from the Fund to launch its pilot, Transit GO, a program that allowed employers in Lake County to offer free transit to its employees.
More than 400 employees at 175 employers have already taken advantage of the program. These employees make, on average, $12 per hour, and are able to save roughly $70/month on transportation with their subsidy.
In its impact report on the Paradox Prize
, The Fund reported that Laketran secured additional funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation and a local sales tax levy to make the Transit GO program permanent.
"The Paradox Prize enabled us to work more closely with employers, to better understand their needs and implement creative solutions to meet those needs," said Laketran CEO Ben Capelle, in a press release. "We've found a way to support employers and thereby empower them to better support their employees."
(It's worth noting that this "creative solution" entails simply giving low-wage workers money. Always a good thing.)
MetroHealth was also one of the eight Paradox Prize grantees. It used its funding to explore employee incentives to promote healthier living and multi-modal commuting. It won a special "President's Prize" recognition Thursday for "model[ing] how employers can work incrementally toward institutional changes that can make commutes more affordable, efficient and environmentally sustainable."
The Fund for our Economic Future reported that all told, the eight pilot programs connected more than 1,300 individuals to work at more than 400 area businesses. But The Fund's President, Bethia Burke, said this was just the first step toward solving the the workforce transportation issues in Northeast Ohio.
"The work ahead of us is to build on these ideas with employers, transit agencies and policymakers," she said, in a press release. "Transportation is everyone’s business. Improving job access for the 4 million-plus residents who call Northeast Ohio home is imperative for anyone working toward a more equitable economy. "
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