TOO OFTEN, the difference between an unemployed District resident and one with a job is a lack of transportation. Anywhere beyond the D.C. line seems to be "way, way out there" to such people as Lisa Walker, a 20-year-old high school dropout who used to wander the city on foot, looking for work. Nonprofit groups, employers and local governments that lend a hand by offering these people rides to sometimes distant jobs in the suburbs deserve applause and support. The District government and Fairfax County have made efforts in these areas. Some employers have begun meeting workers at bus stops and Metro stations with rides to the jobs.
Now there is more. A nonprofit group, Community Family Life Services, Inc., has not only been offering rides. It has helped people find suburban jobs as well and is showing that local governments do not necessarily have to foot the bill. Using five vans and a rather dilapidated school bus, it has been ferrying 85 D.C. residents to various jobs -- at Dulles Airport, unskilled construction work in Gainesville, Va., and landscaping jobs in Alexandria. Some of the employers are helping defray the transportation costs, but it is mainly self- supporting.
After two weeks' worth of free rides from the city to job sites and back at the end of the day, enough time to receive one's first paycheck, those going to Dulles are charged $18 a week. Those going out to Gainesville pay $20 a week. Miss Walker now works as a baggage handler at Dulles. With overtime, she says that she can clear $300 a week. Other workers are mainly poor or homeless D.C. residents, recent immigrants or ex-offenders, says the Rev. Thomas J. Knoll, director of Community Family Life.
Rev. Knoll says that the number of jobs to be found are limited only by the number of seats he can find to transport those eager for work. "We are in the process of filling 50 more jobs immediately," he says. With $1,000, they can buy another used school bus like the one they operate now. With jobs scarce in the city, the group is demonstrating an inexpensive and effective way to make the connection between suburban jobs and city people who want to work.