This Ride Could Change Your Life

Transportation isn’t just the freedom to move from place to place – movement makes up the seams of life, stitching together the things we need to survive. A dependable ride to work, to school, to the grocery store, doctor’s office, or to go looking for a stable place to live. 

For many public defender clients, a reliable ride is the difference between freedom and imprisonment: most people entangled in the court system have to come back to court 8-10 times over six months, even for cases that don’t result in a trial. Missing any court-ordered obligations can be catastrophic and result in an arrest warrant, pretrial detention, suspended licenses, or new charges. 

Even when courts try to do the right thing—offer people a chance to get help, get better, and move forward with their lives through diversion—access to transportation is vital to success

Advocates can negotiate many things for clients, but we can’t teleport them from a jailhouse door to a treatment bed, or from their place of work to the courthouse. Which is why we’re so proud to have support from the team at Uber, who are making sure our clients always have the option of a safe, reliable ride. 

Uber and PFJ began in 2022, growing from a pilot partnership in Los Angeles to a thriving program across multiple counties in California, Houston, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In these cities, PFJ Advocates and our defender partners can provide free rides to clients, enabling hundreds of people to meet their court and life obligations and shielding their families from the collateral consequences of incarceration.

Our client Jasmin, from Los Angeles, spoke with Spectrum News last year about her experience. She was living in her broken-down car, with serious medical needs and no ability to move forward or seek help. When her Advocate, Grace, found a treatment program that would be a good fit for her, she knew it was time to turn it all around—and Uber got her there. 

As Jasmin told us, “That ride saved my life.”

In Southern California—where we first piloted this partnership—24 Advocates across 9 locations in Los Angeles County have ordered 344 rides for their clients in just the last six months. The average ride costs $31, but the transportation is priceless for clients. 

For example, one of our Advocates working in downtown Los Angeles said that while they had only used Uber for three months, these rides had already prevented three clients from going to jail due to bench warrants for failing to appear in court. Instead of ending up behind bars, these clients had their freedom.

Consider these notes from the field: one client, wheelchair-bound, had to appear in court, but had recently had their wheelchair stolen.  Failure to appear would result in jail. The client had yet to connect with an Advocate, so with no other way to get to court, the client dragged themself to appear, arriving five hours late but still making it there through sheer force of will. Once there, they connected with our team, and explained the situation. Our Advocate called an Uber to take them safely home and worked to replace the client’s wheelchair, get them a phone, and ensure the client received the medical treatment needed. Without that Uber ride and the intervention from an Advocate, the client would have injured themselves far more gravely. As it stands, the client can now always call PFJ and Uber when they need to get to court. 

Collaborative defense can produce life-changing results. Collaborators like Uber can get us there quicker, and we’re grateful to be building a better future together. 

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