Job buses: good idea, bad execution?

Posted by R. Neal

Someone in Louisiana came up with a good idea -- buses to shuttle evacuees from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to find work in the cleanup effort. But as with many state and FEMA run programs, the execution appears to be flawed. The New Orleans Times Picayune reports:

The riders who caught the 4:30 a.m. shuttle from Baton Rouge's main bus terminal were part of the state's experiment to see whether workers will commute from the Capital City to New Orleans to fill the many jobs now available.

Some riders were New Orleans evacuees, making the 85-mile journey because the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina has forced them from their homes. Many others were Baton Rouge residents, heading to New Orleans in hopes of snagging one of the better-paying jobs they have heard about in the massive cleanup and rebuilding of the city.


Some of the people directed to the state Labor Department's job center at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street said they didn't find much assistance, filling out some paperwork then coming back to the bus stop. Ed Pratt, a spokesman for the agency, said it was able to give about 30 people lists of companies that have jobs available. In the future, the agency hopes to have recruiters on site, he said.

Part of the problem was just trying to make a connection. David Warren, owner of Saving Our Whole Neighborhood, who came by the bus stop after the first wave of riders had left and not many more were arriving, said he is looking to pay general laborers about $10 an hour to help fix up his rental properties. Skilled workers could earn more, he said.

The article talks about people being dropped off and left wondering where to go, employers not knowing where the buses would be, and confusion connecting bus routes to job sites. One woman said she just started walking down Bourbon Street and lucked into a job as a cook. Another group followed a woman who had already obtained a job to her employer's job site.

Organizing something like this should be pretty simple. The Labor Department could coordinate with companies who need workers and have a central drop off point staffed by coordinators who connect workers with employers and help direct them to job sites via public transportation.

Of course, with the government involved nothing is simple. There seems to be a breakdown in coordination. The article also says FEMA is only funding the program for 15 days "with an extension possible if the program attracts enough riders." 15 days doesn't seem like much time to get something like this up and running, much less evaluate its effectiveness. And, if word gets back that there are no jobs, or simply mass confusion, it's not likely to attract many riders. Once again, leadership at all levels appears to be the missing ingredient.