Rather than invest in costly public transit systems, Dane County Supv. Eileen Bruskewitz thinks a better idea is to help poor people buy cars.
"The best way to get a better job and increase income is to have an education and an automobile," Bruskewitz says.
Dane County plans to apply for a $20,000 to $30,0000 grant from the state's Department of Transportation to help start a program based on Wheels 'n Work, created by Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program. Wheels 'n Work gives low-income folks loans of up to $4,500 to buy a car, says Community Action's Jeff Segebrecht. It's a no-interest loan, though participants pay into a fund to help cover car repairs. The cars also come with alarms to remind people when to make their loan payments.
Started in 2001, the program has loaned $1.3 million to buy 352 cars. "I was doing welfare-to-work case management out in Dodgeville, where there's no mass transit at all," Segebrecht says. "You'd find people jobs but there's no way for them to get there."
The program has been successful, and not just at helping people get around. Last year, participants increased their income by about $4,200 a year.
Segebrecht notes that the program is popular among both liberals and conservatives. "I joke that the Democrats like it because you're helping people and the Republicans like it because you're making [the money] back."