A shortage of safe and reliable public transportation presents a huge roadblock for many Detroit residents, especially children interested in participating in after-school and summer programs. The Youth Transit Alliance, funded by The Skillman Foundation, uses data to help them overcome this challenge.
A partnership between the Detroit Bus Company (DBC) and area youth groups, the Youth Transit Alliance, was first conceived in 2012. Chris Uhl, Vice President, Social Innovation of The Skillman Foundation approached the bus company when other transportation options for youth were proving unreliable. Launched a year earlier to provide Detroit residents with more transportation options, DBC was an ideal candidate to begin addressing youth transportation needs. Uhl asked DBC to launch a pilot program in Southwest Detroit in the summer of 2013.
Uhl based his initial proposal on data collected from the Congress of Communities in Southwest Detroit and a Systems of Supports and Opportunities (SOSO) survey, conducted by Brandeis University in 2010 and again in 2012 by Data Driven Detroit (D3). Both data sets included youth program locations, schedules and enrollment information, as well as the number of students in need of special accommodations (such as wheelchair-accessible busses). D3 mapped these program locations, which provided a starting place for community planning. However, because program offerings and enrollment would change each semester and again in the summer, new program periods would require new surveys. Daniel Brooks, Director of Transit Planning at DBC began making phone calls, asking questions to understand exactly how many children were participating in which programs, where they were coming from and where they needed to return.
Understanding the value of maintaining connections, Brooks regularly spoke with program staff and parents. He surveyed children to determine the safest pick-up and drop-off locations, based on their knowledge of school, program and home areas. Brooks continued recording data, counting every rider as they stepped onto and off of a bus at each location.
While this information is certainly important, Brooks eventually realized he wasn’t measuring the outcomes he wanted to change. A successful youth program wasn’t simply counting the number of children being served. To truly address youth transportation issues, the community needed to identify the children who were not attending afterschool or summer programs due to a lack of transportation. Finding these children will be an important next step to understanding how to eliminate transportation roadblocks and provide these children with a broader range of enriching opportunities. The Youth Transit Alliance served thousands of riders in its first summer and fall and continues to expand from its initial focus in Southwest Detroit.