Commentary: Was There Something We Missed in March?

Cathy Heying of The Lift Garage - Photo courtesy of CNN
Cathy Heying of The Lift Garage – Photo courtesy of CNN

There could be some commentary this month on things. Some of the topics are car-related; some not.

An obvious topic of discussion would be Jeremy Clarkson's latest controversy with the BBC. He is currently suspended from the broadcaster for a "fracas" with a producer over craft services. Reports came out about a punch thrown and an anti-cultural epithet said prior to the punch. Some of you are actively seeking his reinstatement with the BBC and the remaining episodes of the current season of "Top Gear" to be aired. Others are already sick of hearing about Clarkson and would wish the BBC do something not to prolong this any longer.

Considering how much is not known about this, I'll pass.

One could go on a political rant. The talk of Clarkson’s "fracas" basically shouted down the earlier talk of 47 U.S. Senators sending a letter to the Iranian government on nuclear weapons negotiations, sidestepping normal diplomatic channels. Granted, this is not automotive related, but it certainly raised my blood pressure. It would provoke a lecture that would be a basic civics lesson on who should act on sensitive multilateral diplomatic discussions and the consequences when these protocols were not properly followed.

Siding on the focus of this site on one particular industry and not some traffic craving rant blog, I'll pass.

Then, there were major layoffs at Target – mostly at the corporate level in the Twin Cities. With around 1,700 employees sent packing, there were concerns about the local economy and how this effect the job market here. I have a few opinions about how one of the major economic drivers for this region ended up in this situation. One thing I learned from my own layoff in 2009 is to keep one's opinions quiet, since someone could use that against that person – even if they agree or not. Besides, I still know a few people inside Target – or, at least I think I do…I certainly hope they're still there.

Because of that sage professional advice, I'll pass.

Automotive News did feed some ideas on topics this month so far. I usually catch their morning and afternoon video updates during the week, as to see where the industry is at and what potential stories I should watch for. This week had plenty of stories about "activist stockholders" and General Motors' CEO Mary Barra's response and agreement with Harry J, Wilson to quell a potential proxy fight. The latest saga of Takata's air bag and the Hellcat sales issues saw new chapters written in Crain's influential daily news outlet for the industry.

I would be simply scratching the surface if I pursued any of these stories. Again, I'll pass.

Sometimes I have to see something that is not controversial. Something positive and uplifting that would make people think! There has to be something that is the right thing to do with positive effects on the individuals and communities being served here. We get good news – even in the automotive industry – but how do these honestly touch the people that are on the receiving end of the story?

It starts again with James Roberston, the Detroit gentleman seen walking for miles to and from his job in suburban Oakland County because public transport did not serve at either end accordingly. The story behind this gentleman's journey began when his old Honda Accord broke down to never run again. As jobsites grow beyond city centers, the ability to get to work is impacted when employers and contracting firms stipulate that a potential worker needs "reliable transportation" to get there.

Translation: If public transit does not to go the jobsite to fulfill attendance requirements, you will not be considered for the job. That is part of being in a Right to Work state.

What if a worker was hired because they have a car and can get to work the second shift at a jobsite? What happens when that car breaks down and said worker cannot make into work? What if they are not making the kind of money to tackle even the most common maintenance problems? The consequences of being caught in the middle of not working, having "reliable transportation" fail, not being able to financially take care of the problem and not meeting basic needs could be pretty catastrophic.

Last week, CNN carried the story of a social worker by the name of Cathy Heying. Until 2008, Heying worked with St. Stephen's Human Services in Minneapolis. During her time, she saw what people had to go through when thrown into the crunch of meeting the requirements of "reliable transportation" when trying to find and/or hold employment. Heying ultimately saw many people unemployed because they simply could not make it to work until they were able to get their vehicle fixed. In many cases, the loss of employment based on transportation issues ultimately led to even further and more extreme consequences – including homelessness.

From this, Heying came up with an idea. That idea fed off of her love for the automobile (and its two-wheeled cousins) and brought her back to school. She earned a degree in auto technology from the Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis and began the process of research and planning on a garage called The Lift.

The Lift was created as a non-profit organization to be the place where people with low income and at risk of meeting up with negative life consequences to get their vehicles fixed at low labor costs with no price mark up on replacement parts. Customers to The Lift are usually referred to by a case worker providing income information to the organization before any work is done to a vehicle.

This is something that I doubt was even thought of before Heying began her learning at Dunwoody. Perhaps it is because of the lack of gray area when it comes to the dance between transportation and employment among low income households. In cases where the vehicle is part of the job, that margin of vulnerability increases. Since this story is centered on the Twin Cities, add the climate and how that would impact the ability one needs to fulfill an obligation to employment as a basis to survive.

I can sense there is more to this story. It is my hope to pursue this further for another outlet. This is a story that needs to be told repeatedly – not because it is in my backyard. Perhaps there are places where the need for such an effort exists. The idea of helping those in need of affordable vehicle repair to fulfill life's obligations – employment, primarily – is one worth discussing in many communities of need.

In a space that is shared with many voices of various volumes, bandwidths and tempers filling the space of social media, the idea of hope is shelved. Perhaps we need to open up the dialogue on what solutions are needed to secure the economy through jobs and how to ensure that those who can work have gainful access to reliable transportation and to what means necessary could that be achieved – even in a Right to Work state.

In light of the efforts by Heying and The Lift, this conversation has a new point to explore.

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