By MATTIAS KAREN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000
OLDSMAR -- In less than two weeks, local businesses might finally fill many of the lower-wage jobs for which they have struggled to find workers in the past few years.
The much-needed and long-anticipated express bus routes that aim to bring lower-income workers into Oldsmar are scheduled to start running July 31, and local employers are preparing for the arrival of the new service.
This week, several job fairs have been held in the areas that will be served by the new routes. More than 20 businesses have participated in the fairs, hoping to scoop up qualified workers from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
Job fairs were held in St. Petersburg on Tuesday and Tarpon Springs on Wednesday. Today, the scheduled stop is the North Greenwood Community Family Center, 1250 Holt Ave., in Clearwater.
New Port Richey will have a job fair Monday, and Tampa workers will have their chance soon after that, said Kevin Gartland, executive director of the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce.
"We're looking forward to seeing some new people in town," Gartland said.
The new express bus routes are the result of a $2-million grant Pinellas County received from the state Department of Transportation. The grant was part of $8-million the DOT distributed for different WAGES transportation programs. WAGES, short for Work and Gain Economic Self-Sufficiency, oversees welfare-to-work programs in many parts of Florida.
The buses will make stops in low-income areas and aim to bring up to 500 WAGES clients to Oldsmar to work.
Three Pinellas routes will start running July 31: one from the Jordan Park area in St. Petersburg, one from the Greenwood area in Clearwater and one from Tarpon Springs. The Pasco route, which will take off from State Road 52 near Hudson, will also start that day, while the three Hillsborough routes don't get going until Aug. 23.
The buses will each make two express trips to Oldsmar each morning and afternoon. They will make several stops in Oldsmar, traveling along a route that brings the buses within four or five blocks of every major business in town, Gartland said.
One of those stops will be at a new transit station, which is being built along State Road 580, across from the chamber of commerce.
A large parking lot also will be built by the station, where Oldsmar residents who work in other cities can park and then ride the buses on their return route for a small fee.
The routes to Oldsmar will be free for the first two years. After that, riders may have to start paying for the service, as the $2-million grant will have been depleted.
"We need to make this a self-perpetuating route," Gartland said.
To make sure workers aren't worried about not being able to get home in cases of emergency, they will be given eight vouchers a year for free taxi rides from Oldsmar to their homes.
"We just want to make them feel at ease leaving to go to work so far away from home," said David McDonald, a program planner for Pinellas County. Because of the city's rapid growth, Oldsmar businesses have difficulties finding workers for many industrial and manufacturing companies. Finding jobs for another 500 to 700 workers shouldn't be hard, Gartland said.
"I have no doubt that we can use as many people we can get to the area," he said.