Graham Kilmer

FlexRide Launches Childcare Transportation

City-to-suburb transportation service aims to help working people access childcare.

By - Sep 18th, 2023 04:13 pm

FlexRide van at Malaika Early Learning Center, 125 W. Auer St. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

FlexRide, a city-to-suburbs transportation service, is adding a new component to help parents with child care.

FlexRide was created to connect city residents to jobs in the suburbs. Now, the new service aims to eliminate transportation as a barrier to child care and employment.

The new program is called FlexRide for Working Parents. It will take eligible parents and their children from home to daycare, then to work and back. The program has FlexRide partnering with daycare centers in the City of Milwaukee. The first partner is Malaika Early Learning Center, 125 W. Auer. Families that qualify will also receive a subsidy for both the cost of childcare and their FlexRide fares.

Families can access the service through the FlexRide app like a normal ride, except they will also be able to reserve these rides in advance. Typical rides with the service are on-demand and run between pick-up zones in the city and drop-off zones near job centers in the suburbs.

FlexRide for Working Parents is being rolled out with state-rated childcare centers within one mile of the service’s “North Neighborhood Zone” with an expansion on the South Side planned next.

“This is about access,” said Dave Steele, the executive director of MobiliSE, “This is about access to job opportunities, this is about reducing the barrier and even overcoming and eliminating the barrier to employment that is transportation.”

But the trip to work in the morning is often two trips, Steele said, with one trip to childcare or school and another to work. The new service fills this critical missing link at the nexus of employment and transportation for working families.

“We hear all the time from these families,” said Chytania Brown, CEO of Employ Milwaukee.  “They need convenient access to affordable, quality childcare and family-sustaining jobs; and often the jobs are not where they live.”

Tamara Johnson, executive director of the Malaika Early Learning Center, noted that public transportation is an option, but one that doesn’t always work for a family’s schedule and their preferred childcare provider. If it takes two buses in the morning to get to their preferred child care before work, they may have to find an alternative, she explained.

“Transportation is one of the greatest barriers that families face when it comes to employment and getting children to childcare and school,” she said.

Brown noted that the issue of childcare access and transportation is “so much bigger than” the new FlexRide program. But she said the new service is trying something for the first time and that it provides an opportunity to advocate for more resources and partnerships focused on the issue.

FlexRide launched in early 2022 as a pilot program. Later that year, it received funding to expand with a $4.2 million Workforce Innovation Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. This year Milwaukee County provided the program $1.3 million out of its federal funding allocation through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Since the service began, it has provided approximately 35,000 rides, Steele said, bringing city residents to 185 job sites in the suburbs.

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