Childcare Support in the Transit Industry: A Vital Initiative for Workforce Stability

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: March 21, 2024

In September 2023, the Transit Workforce Center unveiled research on various childcare support models within the transit industry, underscoring a critical link between childcare support and workforce availability. They found that by supporting employees’ childcare needs, they were able to have a profound impact on workforce morale, attendance, and overall stability.

The transit industry, like many others, is grappling with a significant labor shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) survey found that 96% of 190 surveyed transit agencies had a workforce shortage, 84% of which crucially impacted their ability to provide transit service.

Part of what’s causing this worker shortage is the lack of affordable and accessible childcare (the childcare industry itself is also facing a shortage of workers). This problem reflects a broader trend affecting labor participation rates across the United States, particularly among women. The high cost and scarcity of childcare options have forced many parents to make tough choices about their employment, significantly impacting the transit sector, which relies heavily on a stable and reliable workforce.

Tackling the problem

In November 2022, the number of transportation workers who quit their job was the highest it had been in a decade. To tackle this challenge, the Transit Workforce Center identified three innovative childcare support models:

  1. Voucher Systems: This approach provides financial assistance to employees, helping them afford existing childcare services. It offers flexibility, allowing parents to choose the childcare provider that best suits their family’s needs.
  2. On-Site Childcare Centers: Managed directly by the transit agency, these facilities offer convenient access to childcare. This has been found to foster a supportive work environment and eases logistical stress on working parents.
  3. Discounted Childcare Centers Managed by Contractors: Transit agencies that choose this solution offer employees referral services to help navigate childcare options and have relationships with providers that offer services at a reduced rate.

These programs have been found to enhance morale and attendance among working parents and address broader socioeconomic issues, including workforce participation rates among women.

Real-World Examples

Transit agencies serving both rural and urban communities have implemented childcare programs. These three examples demonstrate how childcare programs can be successful when working with partners and considering local needs.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Child Care Fund: The MTA partnered with Transport Workers Union Local 100 to provide financial support for childcare in their collective bargaining agreement. This limited fund reimburses employees up to $320 a week for childcare in a licensed facility and up to $160 a week if the provider isn’t licensed (i.e. family members). Employees can also choose to have their child’s summer camp covered, up to $1,000.

Prairie Hills Transit’s On-Site Center: In South Dakota, Prairie Hills Transit (PHT) used a federal Department of Agriculture grants to construct an on-site childcare facility. After trying unsuccessfully to hire an external contractor to manage the facility, PHT hired its own licensed staff. The program is financially self-sustaining and can accommodate up to 41 children. PHT employees receive a 30% discount for the program, offset by community members who pay full price to send their children to the center.

Los Angeles Metro’s Childcare Partnerships: LA Metro offers their employees the support of a non-profit or a for-profit organization to help them find appropriate childcare options. Employees can also enroll their children in LA Metro’s own childcare center, which is walking distance from the agency’s central maintenance facility and headquarters. The facility is available for any child aged 5 and under, but LA Metro employees receive a 15% discount and priority enrollment.

Proven impact

Research shows that lowering the cost of childcare has a directly positive impact on the percentage of mothers joining the workforce, in both urban and rural communities. A 2022 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report found that 60% of American parents who left the workforce cited lack of childcare as their reason. While identifying childcare solutions can be a complex project for a transit agency to take on, it has a proven impact on improving employee recruitment and retention.

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