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Give county residents

a ride to a better life

 

By Robert Stevens

Managing editor

Dec. 7, 2017

 

If you can’t bring the jobs to Sanpete, bring Sanpete to the jobs.

That is my theory based on hearing local politicians talk for years in city councils and other public meetings about how we need to bring better jobs to the county.

While we do have a few solid employers in Sanpete (ACT in Gunnison City comes to mind), we are not exactly overflowing with opportunity if you do not possess a college degree.

My definition of a “good job” is one that pays a living wage without requiring employees to destroy their bodies or spend extended periods of time away from their loved ones—and if they do, they should be compensated for those drawbacks.

Sanpete Messenger Managing Editor Robert Stevens

My father worked his whole life as a plasterer to support my mother and us kids. By the blessing of a caring relative, we had housing that was slightly more affordable than what others were paying in California during the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Despite that blessing, my father had to work his butt off for decades with no pension plan. By the time he became a master plasterer earning increased wages, the years of hard labor had taken their toll, permanently damaging his body, and leaving him with severe chronic back and hip pain.

For my father, a lifetime of hard labor in construction ended in an unacceptable sacrifice. I do not believe a job is good simply because it pays the bills—my father’s health and quality of life are worth more than that.

In retrospect, he encouraged his children to seek higher education, wishing he, too, had gone the route of less physically taxing white-collar work.

There are families in Sanpete County who need more income badly, but choices are slim unless they take the route my dad did.

But there are good jobs elsewhere in this state. The Wasatch Front and Utah County both have an excellent job market, with many jobs starting at $13 per hour and up, along with benefits and other pluses for someone with a family to support.

In fact, the Wasatch Front is fast developing a labor shortage. Because of the remarkable economic growth in urban Utah, businesses can’t find the employees they need. “Now hiring” signs are everywhere.

I proposed implementing a mass transportation system to taxi willing and able workers to and from Utah and Salt Lake counties, allowing them to make a good wage and bring the money back to Sanpete County for their families and for the benefit of our own local economy.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) once subsidized Elevated Transit to allow for a bus line running from Richfield to Salt Lake City and back, but those subsidies ended, and with it Elevated Transit.

Even with the subsidies, the ticket cost from Sanpete to Salt Lake was over $40—more than a low-income household can bear both ways on a daily basis.

But if Sanpete County and UDOT worked out an affordable transportation system for people who needed it, it could allow many families to lead better lives by working hard at an out-of-county job.

Logistics on a program like this would have to be meticulously planned. Ridership fares would  be needed in addition to state and county subsidies.

Participation in the program would have to be enthusiastic and consistent. That in turn would require driven, hard-working riders looking for a way to improve the lives of themselves and their loved ones, and thus motivated to keep their jobs and keep riding.

Kevin Christensen, director of Sanpete County Economic Development, says Sanpete, because of its low population density, may not have enough riders to support a daily commuter bus. But if the program was marketed properly and subsidized sufficiently to make commuting affordable, I don’t see that being a problem.

What genuine, caring and responsible head-of-the-household would pass up a chance to improve his or her family’s life if the person knew such an opportunity was within his or her grasp?

A prospective worker would need to make sacrifices that come with any commute, such as getting up earlier and coming home later, but with a driver piloting the mass transit vehicle, passengers could use the ride time to pay bills, take care of personal administrative matters or even sleep if they wanted to.

A logical route would perhaps involve pickup in each Sanpete municipality along U.S. 89 and a destination at the Provo Trax station, where the workers could transfer to the impressive Utah Transit Authority system to get to their final job sites.

Although a program like this would primarily benefit low-income families, I see nothing wrong with that. These are the people who need to see that they don’t have to swing a hammer or cut up turkeys their whole life just to live paycheck to paycheck.

Before Messenger Publisher Suzanne Dean gave me an opportunity in journalism, a program like this would have been a huge benefit to me, so I know for a fact it has the potential to benefit others.

Even now, I am aware of men and women who could improve the lives of their families, without moving away from their beloved ancestral homes in Sanpete, and bring back extra money to boost the local economy in the process.

I challenge our local leaders to make this proposal a reality. If you question its potential effectiveness, may I suggest you are out of touch with many of the people you serve.

Even with his initial uncertainty on the viability of the idea, Christensen says he sees rays of hope as self-driving vehicle technology continues to advance.

Perhaps combining electric vehicle tech and driverless vehicle tech might offer a one-two punch for program savings that would be a catalyst for implementing a commuter program.

I’ve been told a rising tide raises all boats. I think it’s high time for high tide in Sanpete County, but it’s going to take some work.