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Safe Shift To Provide On-Demand Public Transit For Night Workers

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Getting to work can feel like running an extended obstacle course: kids who refuse to put on coats, construction detours, bus delays. The prize? Doing it all over again the next day.

The commute gauntlet can be even trickier for those on third shift, who clock in as much of the world slows down. A new initiative called Safe Shift aims to take the guesswork out of getting to work at night. Ford and the City of Pittsburgh selected the project as one of three winners in the City of Tomorrow Challenge.

The idea for Safe Shift emerged at a recent conference called Mobiliti. It brought employees and employers together to identify barriers to getting to work, said one of Safe Shift’s leaders, Courtney Ehrlichman of the Ehrlichman Group.

“Employers lose billions of dollars a year nationally to employee turnover … That’s a big concern,” she said. “And then there’s the fact that these employees aren’t able to keep their jobs because of transportation.”

Safe Shift is a proposal for on-demand transit, but intends to use public vehicles instead of private automobiles. ACCESS vans, in partnership with Port Authority, provide coordinated paratransit rides during the day. Safe Shift would send them back onto the streets at night.

Jobs with non-standard hours exist in many industries. Steve Shelton, founder and executive director of the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, said unreliable transportation prevents his students from fully realizing the potential of the region’s construction industry.

“It’s better than it’s ever been,” he said, but most of his students were recently incarcerated, and have trouble getting a driver’s license or car.

“How can we make sure that they have the same luxuries at night that we have during the day? Are they still as mobile? Do they still have the luxury of being able to catch a bus or whatever it may be to be able to get where they need to go?”

Safe Shift will be open to all workers but Ehrlichman said it holds enormous potential for women.

“Women actually pay more for transportation at night because they don’t feel safe on transit,” she said, citing a recent study from New York University that found women spend $26 to $50 more per month than men on private transportation options. “We really wanted to focus on women being able to access public transportation options, and not having to have that tax, essentially, on their transportation.”

The pilot will hopefully include two large employers, said Ehrlichman, who talked with Giant Eagle and UPMC. Safe Shift will first try to understand how people move at night in Pittsburgh, and work with Port Authority, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, night shift workers and Moovit, a technology firm that plans transit commutes by aggregating user data. Over the next three months Moovit will help Safe Shift build its analytics.The firm will figure out where workers are coming from, where they’re going to, and how best to get them there, said Hannah Katz, Moovit’s North American operations manager.

“We’re providing the technical infrastructure for this,” she said, noting that night commute patterns aren’t well-documented. “Nationally, this information doesn’t exist, which is why Moovit is very excited to be able to apply our analytics tools to just create more information about how people travel at night.”

After a three-month period of data gathering, the project is expected to roll out in the second quarter of 2019. It will ideally serve the employees of two large institutions, said Ehrlichman.

“If we can somehow demonstrate an economic model that makes sense, and allows for there to be a savings for the employer, we’re hoping they can help underwrite this program.”

Ford will provide support to Safe Shift as it begins implementation.