Author: sreya sarkar

Oregon: No Country for Good Ideas

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

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In a 2007 national seminar, Cascade Policy Institute’s Wheels to Wealth program promoted the idea of allowing jitneys to replace low-ridership public buses. A form of mass transit, a jitney is a car or van which is not required to run on a fixed route and schedule. Cascade followed this proposal with a publication on jitneys, which was widely circulated within TriMet but then quickly rejected by the transit agency.

Now West CAP, a community action agency in Wisconsin, is taking up the jitney idea. (more…)

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Extending Unemployment Benefits or Extending Unemployment?

Sreya Sarkar Cascade Commentary

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Summary

The Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (H.R. 6867) expands unemployment benefits to up to 59 weeks in Oregon. Unfortunately, paying workers not to work longer helps neither the economy nor workers, who (more…)

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Why Singapore Retires Securely

Sreya Sarkar Cascade Commentary

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Summary

Singapore’s Central Provident Fund is based on individual savings and building assets, unlike the American Social Security system. Singapore’s national philosophy, “nothing should be free,” has encouraged free-market strategies and individual responsibility, a good model for American social policy. (more…)

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Why the ASPIRE Act Has Not Become Law

Sreya Sarkar Cascade Commentary

Summary

Public policy advocates and lawmakers have proposed numerous programs allowing people to accumulate assets, as opposed to simply receiving cash benefits, in the hope of breaking cycles of poverty and government dependency. In the guise of an asset-building tool, the Federal ASPIRE Bill is actually another entitlement program. Policymakers realize this, and this is the reason it has not become law. (more…)

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Can Transit Agencies Learn to Embrace Car Ownership?

Sreya Sarkar Cascade Commentary

Summary

Cascade Policy Institute submitted an innovative proposal to TriMet to cancel TriMet’s lowest performing bus routes and to use some of the savings to capitalize a loan fund to help finance car ownership for transit-dependent riders displaced by the bus line cancellations. (more…)

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Driver’s License or Good Citizen’s Card?

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

The driver’s license was originally created to ensure public safety by setting driving standards. But when lawmakers treat the license as a “good citizen” trophy and suspend it for nondriving-related infractions, the consequences for low-income workers’ ability to maintain employment are serious. (more…)

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Can Social Insurance Be Reformed?

Sreya Sarkar Cascade Commentary

Summary

The financial liabilities of social insurance programs in the United States in the near future are staggering, but the Wall Street meltdown has many Americans worried about “private” solutions. Around the world, other countries are replacing traditional pay-as-you-go schemes with hybrid arrangements of government social insurance programs and individual-based accounts, which may be a workable solution to the crisis. (more…)

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Why the Credit Unions Still Stand

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

There was a time when large national banks were considered more stable and reliable than local financial institutions, but that is not always the case anymore. With a string of blockbuster acquisitions transforming the banking landscape, a huge share of American consumer deposits are now consolidated in three banking giants: Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Consumers today are feeling uncomfortable about these big banks and have started shopping around for alternatives—like local credit unions. (more…)

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Lack of Innovation or Understanding?

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 converted a national entitlement program, AFDC, into a collection of block grants for the states called TANF, giving each state a greater flexibility and a chance to help move welfare recipients into workplace. Some states like Idaho and Maryland used this opportunity well and came out with flying colors, while others like Vermont and Missouri performed dismally.

According to Heartland Institute’s State Welfare Report Card 2008, Oregon’s overall rank is (more…)

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Wanted: Asset Accounts, Not Income Transfers

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Low-income Americans hear two contradictory messages: “Save” and “Don’t Save.” Converting some defined-benefit entitlements to asset accounts owned by individuals could include the poor in the trend toward asset ownership illustrated by the rise of IRAs and Health Savings Accounts. (more…)

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Entrepreneurship as a Weapon Against Poverty

Sreya SarkarReview of Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, The Independent Institute (2008).

There is a growing mass of literature discussing various facets of private industry becoming an involved and effective player in the realm of poverty alleviation. The poor have been considered the constituency of the government for a long time, but now that perception is changing. For example, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography, Banker to the Poor, takes commercial banks to a clientele base they have never really served before. C.K. Prahalad’s The Future at the Bottom of the Pyramid is a rallying cry for big business to position serving the world’s four billion poorest people at the heart of their profit-making strategies. Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, is one of the latest books in this category, adding one more dimension to this discussion. (more…)

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Effective Asset-Building Coalitions Diversify

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

A recent report published by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis discusses the importance of state-level asset-building coalitions in triggering public policies that support greater asset-building opportunities for people of all incomes.

Such coalitions call for diverse representation from around the state and inclusion of (more…)

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Ready to Learn, Ready to Work in Salem-Keizer

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

The Salem-area Ready to Learn-Ready to Work program helps high school students meet career-related learning standards and develop skills they need to succeed in the workforce or in college. This private-sector-led project is the kind of successful workforce training solution parents, employers, colleges and communities statewide are all looking for. (more…)

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Food or Fuel?

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

Last year the Oregon legislature passed three bills (HB 2210, 2211 and 2212) to subsidize and to provide incentives to Oregonians to produce biofuels. Promotion of homegrown ethanol and similar biofuels was seen as an answer to high global oil prices and supply worries. The Oregon Environmental Council predicted 100 million gallons would be produced annually by the year 2010.

Now, a brewing world food crisis has hit the headlines. World food prices have (more…)

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Taking a Private Route Out of the Workforce Crisis

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Oregon’s economy will create an estimated 250,000 new jobs over the next decade, and 20,000 jobs are currently unfilled in the Portland area. But employers are having a tough time finding qualified candidates to replace retirees and to fill new positions. The private and nonprofit sectors can help. (more…)

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Man and Machine Can Be Friends

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

In the early 1980s federal investment in research and development of agricultural machines was suspended because of a political campaign by the prominent United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez to protect farm workers’ jobs and the technological challenges of that time.

Today the situation has changed. Now American farms are seriously disturbed about (more…)

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A Drive Toward Social Inclusion

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

Last year two important developments took place in Oregon that favored low-income workers’ access to mobility, but they did not receive much media coverage.

First, automobiles were included in the transformative asset category of Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) to facilitate asset-building opportunities for low-income Oregonians.

Second, a car ownership program called Opportunity Cars was (more…)

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Change in Nano Doses

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Tata Motors’ Nano, the cheapest car in the world, was launched this month in India, to the delight of lower-income households able to afford their first car. While environmentalists and city planners fear an increase in pollution and congestion, the Nano is safer and more ecofriendly than other options available to the poor. (more…)

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Keys to Opportunity in Crook County

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Welfare dependent people need access to physical, social and economic mobility to become self-sufficient. Opportunity Cars generates access to both physical and economic mobility through its financial fitness classes and car purchase program in Crook County, Oregon. (more…)

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A Market-Based Solution to the MAX Security Crisis

Sreya SarkarJohn A. Charles, Jr.Cascade Commentary

Summary

While TriMet has agreed to some reforms in the wake of the MAX security crisis, a much better solution would be to allow consumers to have real choices in transit service. Here in Portland, privately operated automobiles formerly served successfully as unsubsidized, flexible, quasi-public transportation directly responsive to popular demand. (more…)

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The Dilemma of a Bifurcated Social Policy

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

The root of the contemporary American dilemma about how much to spend on welfare programs lies in the fact that, in this country, “social security” and “welfare” are manifestations of a fragmented and bifurcated social policy framework. Americans always have been ambivalent about nationalized social provisions, just as they are toward concentrated political authority. (more…)

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Paying a High Price for "Fareless" Rides

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

TriMet has always taken credit for promoting economic development along light rail lines, yet it has been reluctant to take responsibility for the growing levels of unlawful behavior on MAX.

Repeated complaints of crimes on MAX from Gresham to Hillsboro fell on deaf ears until the recent incident of a 71-year-old man being beaten with a baseball bat at the Gresham Central Transit Center. This incident triggered a (more…)

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Flexible Transit? Lessons from Bend

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

A committee representing the three Central Oregon Counties has created a regional framework to address a more efficient, effective and equitable use of alternative transportation services. They conducted the region’s first comprehensive survey of alternative transportation services and discovered overwhelming support for transit services based on real market demand. (more…)

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Wheels to Wealth: A Pilot Project to Examine the Feasibility of Promoting Low-Income Auto Ownership as a Transit Strategy

Synopsis

Wheels to Wealth is a proposal with a dual purpose: First, to form a committee to discuss the transportation needs of the “working poor” population in the Portland tri-county area. Second, to explore the feasibility of canceling TriMet’s lowest performing bus routes, and using a part of the financial savings to create a revolving loan fund to help finance car ownership among low-income workers in the tri-county area. If implemented (through a 3rd-party social service agency), this proposal would improve the mobility options of low-income households and workers who are not served totally by fixed bus routes. The auto loan program also would increase employment opportunities for its participants, thereby helping to raise their incomes. It is likely to increase TriMet’s total ridership, improve the fuel economy of the bus fleet, and raise TriMet’s fare box recovery ratio.

Background

The growing “working poor” population in Portland has complex transportation needs that are not addressed sufficiently by the fixed route model of public transit.

TriMet recovers approximately 21% of its operating costs from passenger fares. This low fare box recovery ratio places constant pressure on the agency to cancel the lowest-performing routes, where subsidies can be $12 or more per trip (such as the Cedar Mill Shuttle, 84-Kelso-Boring, 39-Lewis & Clark and 27-Market routes), compared with the fleet average subsidy of $2.58 per trip.

Adopting a subsidized car ownership strategy could be a cost-effective and efficient way of replacing these underperforming routes while mobilizing low-income workers in Portland. If implemented properly, such a program could have many benefits for the general public, TriMet and its customers.

Benefits for customers

  • Studies show that for low-income and minority households, auto ownership is positively correlated with improved access to jobs, higher household incomes and more weeks worked per year. Thus, improving the car ownership rate among these populations is likely to make them more financially secure.
  • Auto ownership helps welfare recipients move permanently into the workforce.
  • Auto ownership dramatically improves the mobility options of the “working poor” and increases their access to regional public transportation.

Benefits for TriMet

  • Subsidized car ownership can help improve TriMet’s bottom line by allowing the agency to eliminate its lowest-performing (highest-subsidized) bus routes, thereby freeing up capital to be redeployed in areas where consumer demand is greater.
  • TriMet is dependent on private car ownership for the so-called “last mile” of service from the transit stop to the customer’s front door. If TriMet helps some of its lowest-income bus riders become car owners, many of them may continue to be transit riders by driving to TriMet parking lots and using the train to commute to jobs that were previously unavailable to them.

Benefits for the General Public

  • Most of the money saved by TriMet from canceling low-performing routes can be reinvested in parts of the district where customer demand is greater. This will provide better service for more people.
  • Energy consumption for the average automobile trip in America is now less than for the average transit bus trip (3,549 BTU per passenger-mile by car, versus 4,160 for a bus transit trip). Canceling low-performing routes that consume a lot of energy will improve the overall transportation fuel economy for the region, lowering emissions and saving money.

Concerns about Traffic Congestion

  • Many low-income transit passengers work at jobs that either have odd shifts (e.g., starting at midnight) or involve “reverse commutes” where road capacity is not a problem. Converting a few hundred of these weekly trips from bus to auto will have no effect on congestion in the region.

Conclusion

While it may seem counterintuitive to think of subsidized car ownership as a “transit strategy,” it is clear that testing this concept would have benefits for TriMet, its transit-dependent riders and the general public. Cascade urges TriMet to partner with Metro, the DEQ and other stakeholders to explore the feasibility of testing the idea on several of its lowest-performing bus routes over a three-year period.

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Pilot study initiative to explore the transportation needs of the low-income population in the Portland tri-county area

Sreya SarkarInitiative Proposal

To initiate a pilot study for three years, to explore the possibility of including car-ownership as part of the transportation choices offered to the low-income and minority population in the tricounty area. (more…)

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How to Increase Low-Income Homeownership Without Subsidies

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

A recent study published by the Urban Institute discusses how the current system of low-income housing assistance is strongly biased against homeownership for low-income households.

An interesting section of the study explains why programs that subsidize the (more…)

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Response to TriMet comments on Cascade’s pilot project proposal

To: TPAC

We appreciated the time allocated by TPAC recently to consider our proposal. We would like to respond to the specific points made by Phil Selinger in his August 31, 2007 memo. (more…)

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Central Oregon private-public mobility agenda

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

Central Oregon Mobility Consortium, under the Central Oregon Intergovermental Council, is on the verge of creating an innovative regional transportation plan for Central Oregon counties. The region’s continuing phenomenal growth has created an unprecedented demand for alternative transportation choices that are customer friendly but not totally reliant on the existing public transit model of fixed routes.

The traditional bus service doesn’t effectively serve the smaller communities in the region because of their (more…)

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Portlanders See Through the “Bike vs. Car” Racket

Debate Club poster

Debate club poster
(Photo: Garrett Downen/Bus Project)

The Wheels to Wealth program is finally communicating with an audience it always wanted to reach out to. Program Director Sreya Sarkar took part in a debate in SE Portland that attracted the biking community of Portland.

As part of their monthly Debate Club series, the Bus Project and the Portland Mercury hosted a (more…)

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“Workfare” Calls for Mobility of Low-Income Workers

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Low-income workers need access to higher-skilled jobs to increase their income and independence. Addressing their real-life transportation needs will help post-TANF individuals transition into the mainstream workforce with stability and permanence. (more…)

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Don’t Pork-Barrel Microenterprises

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Microenterprises have much to offer to the poor in this country, but only if they take root in a natural way and are not imposed on the poor like other poverty reduction programs. Microenterprise is very different from the usual government-led poverty reduction programs and can only thrive in a deregulated and decentralized economic environment. (more…)

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Community-led housing solution

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

Homelessness has become a pressing concern in Central Oregon. The number of people without a permanent home there has increased by half in the past year. More than 2,000 people are presently staying in shelters, on the streets, in their cars or camping out in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook Counties.

Though 79% of the homeless households are employed, the most common reason for this homeless situation is (more…)

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Microfinance is a tool, not a poverty alleviation program

Sreya SarkarResponse to “A Second Look at Microfinance: The Sequence of Growth and Credit in Economic History,” by Thomas Dichter

Microfinance is a mechanism or a practice of providing financial services on a very small scale such as credit, savings or insurance, to the poor. It is a field being thoroughly investigated by academicians and policy analysts because it has the potential to become an important instrument in poverty reduction. Yet, microfinance is not a direct poverty alleviation program. It also calls for a paradigm shift in our perception of the capabilities of the poor. (more…)

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Preserve the beauty and make it rich

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

Oregon presently has eight destination resorts that employ approximately 2,100 people. Destination resorts are a boon for cash-strapped rural Oregon counties, especially after the collapse of the timber industry. Five more resorts are expected to develop in central Oregon that would generate an additional 1,500 resort jobs.

Jefferson County has amended its zoning ordinances to allow (more…)

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Transporting Low-Income Workers to a Better Future in Rural Oregon

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

The growing number of low-income workers in Oregon’s rural counties calls attention to their diverse transportation needs. The sparse populations concentrated in these areas, combined with the types of occupations available, require flexible transportation arrangements that cannot be provided by fixed-route public transit. Private car ownership can empower these workers to reach jobs in our rural communities. (more…)

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Self-employment, a way out of welfare

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

To fit in with the latest federal requirements set by Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, Oregon needs to change its existing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program significantly. Oregon could lose up to $14 million annually if it fails to connect half of the TANF recipients to work-related activities.

The Legislative Assembly is currently considering (more…)

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Evidence-Based War on Poverty

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Forty-three years after President Johnson declared the War on Poverty, Americans are questioning the effective-ness of government welfare dollars. Evidence-based policymaking seeks to bridge the gap between policy makers and social scientists in finding solutions to poverty that are effective in the real world. (more…)

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Help Wanted

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

The biggest question confronting private-sector industries in Oregon is how they will replace the skilled workforce approaching retirement.

40% of Oregon workers are 45 or older. Manufacturing is one of the industries that will be the hardest hit. 15% of manufacturing workers are 55 and older.

Oregon saw a 1.3% gain in (more…)

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Nobel Prize “drives” home idea to help Oregon’s low-income population

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary

Summary

Lack of reliable transportation is a crucial barrier for low-income and welfare dependent people in escaping intergenerational cycles of poverty. For these individuals and families, car ownership plays a positive role in acquiring employment, raising income and participating more fully in family and community life. (more…)

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