Responsible Rides (RR): Connecting Low-Income Individuals to Dependable, Affordable Automobiles

Responsible Rides (RR): Connecting Low-Income Individuals to Dependable, Affordable Automobiles

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In areas where automobiles are essential to a self-sufficient life, and where low-income individuals are otherwise without transportation to connect to jobs, education, healthcare and healthy food, Responsible Rides, with the support of NGO staff, builds a collaborative that changes the conventional rules of loan underwriting for low-income individuals and opens credit markets to those excluded, yielding multiple positive impacts.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Responsible Rides serves individuals with incomes less than or equal to 350% of the U.S. federal poverty guidelines in south-western Virginia; over half of customers served to date have a household income at or below the federal poverty line. Unable to qualify for conventional loans, RR customers typically have poor credit, with an average credit score of 570. Sixty-four percent of Responsible Rides car owners are single mothers; 93% of all customers are female. Approximately three quarters of customers are African American; 16% are white. About one third receive disability income. Almost 90% do not own their own home. Customers are typically employed, yet they lack reliable transportation, making it hard for them to maintain their jobs, transport their children to childcare, school and doctor’s appointments. While the more urban area of Roanoke does have a bus line, services is limited, and for those individuals living outside of city limits, even greater barriers exist. Many customers are taking advantage of other services offered by TAP – such as employment training, continuing education, or small business development – and RR serves to meet transportation needs of these individuals. For many, a car through RR is one of the first assets they have owned.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Responsible Rides is the first program of its kind in the nation and was designed to be replicable through credit union networks. The program is suitable for any area, in the United States or abroad, where there is creative willingness in credit leadership and access to reliable automobiles. The program success is based on a number of innovations. It makes use of adaptive loan underwriting to provide first tier, low mileage automobiles with two year warranties to individuals who could not traditionally qualify for a car loan; NGO staff provide intensive customer support pre- and post-purchase as well as a full battery of owner education. Lastly, the initiative receives support from the partner credit union and Enterprise Car Sales for program sustainability; no subsidy from government agencies or private funding sources is required. This blend of innovations has proven itself over a year and a half of operation: 67 individuals have been connected with automobiles, with only one default. Virginia Tech has already completed an evaluation of the program, and UVA’s Darden School of Business has expressed interest in mounting another evaluation of the program’s success. RR recognizes that for many, especially outside of urban areas, transportation is a key challenge; provision of supportive services to help individuals meet their goals is often wasted if these individuals do not have access to reliable transport. It is an ideal model of how NGOs can work with the private sector to provide sustainable solutions to human service needs.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Responsible Rides (RR) is a private/public venture that connects low-income individuals with affordable, safe, low-mileage automobiles. Using the capacity of NGOs to provide outreach and supportive services and the resources of credit unions, and partnering with car rental and sales businesses, the program helps individuals overcome one of the primary barriers to self-sufficiency: reliable transportation. Along with conducting outreach to low-income individuals and qualifying them for affordable car loans, the program teaches essential family financial literacy and auto-ownership responsibilities during two courses designed for the new car owner. RR builds on innovatively widened resource of financing and automobiles in our region to ensure that transportation does not bar low-income individuals from meeting their families’ health, educational and vocational needs, allowing those who would not be able to qualify for car loans on their own the opportunity to gain a safe, affordable automobile.
About You
Total Action Against Poverty
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Total Action Against Poverty

Organization Country

, VA, Roanoke City

Country where this project is creating social impact

, VA, Roanoke City

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

The two founding community action agencies – TAP, serving the Roanoke-Alleghany region of Virginia, and New River Community Action (NRCA), serving the New River Valley -- saw their clients consistently facing the same barriers to self-sufficiency as a result of lack of reliable transportation. Over a two-year period, the agencies, using best-practices, modelled, developed and service-marked the RR program as an affordable membership organization assuring consistent quality of service and uniform corporate behaviors. The founders designed the program to avoid the common pitfalls of other ventures: poor car condition (with high miles and unaffordable repairs); no car ownership support leading to poor maintenance; no support for loan payments; unaffordable car cost compared to car value; and questionable use of donated automobiles for program customers. Seeing an opportunity in untapped private sector resources, the agency took advantage of U.S. Recovery Act funds to obtain seed money for this unique initiative. Now, with ARRA funds expired, the local program has successfully continued, connecting 253 individuals and their families with cars, with two new sites in various stages of implementation; the Lynchburg, Virginia site has just place their first customer in an automobile.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

To date, RR has provided cars to 67 adults impacting 253 individuals and families, with only one default. In regular client follow-ups, Responsible Rides tracks employment outcomes related to customers’ new car; in evaluations done as of December 2010, 67% of customers reported their new cars had a high impact on getting to work, allowing them to work more hours and consequently increase benefits. RR cars also positively impact customers ability to make it to important appointments (healthcare for themselves, their children, etc.): 44% of customers reported being able to keep important appointments before getting a RR car; after gaining the car, 89% kept their appointments. Besides these standard measures of success, the program also looks at more holistic improved life outcomes. These include better access to childcare and educational opportunities, better childcare at home, decreased expense for food, healthcare and other essentials, improvement in quality of life as a result of increased personal time, strengthened relationships, broader cultural horizons and improved credit scores and financial choices which are all impacted by access to reliable transportation.

How many people have been impacted by your project?


How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Responsible Rides has already been replicated at two sites in other areas of Virginia and generated interest in the program beyond the Commonwealth’s borders. With funding from EBay/Changemakes, RR will be able to continue the rollout process, replicating materials for sister sites to use in their own RR programs. Responsible Rides is a membership organization, with both materials and technical assistance for new sites to ensure that this quality program is responsibly replicated in other areas of the country. Funding would allow for a dedicated outreach/marketing/technical assistance staff person to oversee the establishment of new RR programs and provide international access and support via the Internet.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Currently, there is high interest from organizations around the nation in implementing the successful RR model; however, without proper technical assistance, the program faces barriers to being implemented properly. The program has had great success in our region due to the dedicated efforts and extensive planning of both private and public partners; ensuring that sister sites engage in careful preparation with guidance from RR is key to ensuring success of the replicated model, as well as each site’s economic sustainability. Responsible Rides will employ a number of strategies to ensure the program’s continued and expanding success. We have a number of resources available for sites wishing to replicate the program, including a well-developed program package, service mark for members, and annual benchmarks to ensure maintenance of program quality and ethos. Additionally, RR provides both on-site and remote technical assistance for member organizations, giving fledgling programs access to staff from all three founding organizations (two community actions agencies and credit union). The financial benefits for private sector partners ensure the program’s economic sustainability: the loan portfolio (currently over $650,000) provides incentive for credit union support and the sale of a large number of automobiles without intensive efforts on the part of car sales staff provides incentive for car sales businesses’ continued participation. Intensive NGO support of customers assures very low default rates (currently less than 1.5%) for program customers.

Tell us about your partnerships

Responsible Rides is a collaborative effort between community action agencies, credit unions, and Enterprise Car Sales. The NGOs provide intensive support to customers both before and after their car purchase, helping to ensure they make payments timely, maintain their automobile and connect with other necessary services. The partner credit unions use adaptive underwriting that allows those who would not qualify for conventional loans to access credit. Enterprise Car Sales provides low-mileage, reliable cars with warranties from their fleet for customers to purchase.

Explain your selections

Program staff are housed in the NGO. The credit union and Enterprise Car Sales compensate the program thusly: Enterprise contributes to the program quarterly, based on number of cars sold through the program; the credit union sets aside a small percentage of the loan portfolio amount in an interest account, and pays a portion of the interest to the program monthly. Customers finance a $199 fee for the program into their car loan and make low monthly payments on their automobiles. Income is also generated through member sites dues to the Responsible Rides organization. Additionally, the program solicits donated vehicles, which are then sold for program income.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Responsible Rides has three strategies for strengthening the project over the next three years. The first goal is to expand the membership organization; project income will include membership dues and technical assistance payments from member sites. Secondly, the project will enhance its relationships with departments of social services and other public service programs to increase their participation, also bringing in additional resources. Lastly, the project will continue outcome evaluation of program operation and customer impact for improved management of resource development.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.




Inadequate transparency


Other (Specify Below)

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Other: Restricted access to consumer loans.
For many RR customers, transportation is the key barrier to being fully employed: lack of access to reliable transportation causes difficulties in searching for living-wage employment, maintaining employment, transporting children to childcare and restricts employment options by forcing individuals to make employment decisions based on intermittent or completely lacking public transportation. Adaptive underwriting tackles customers' restricted access to credit markets and consumer loans. It also, along with the NGO staff support and owner education, addresses transparency issues and uncertain access customers face when entering conventional credit markets.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices


Other (please specify below)

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Other: Grow membership organization.
All selected activities are currently underway. The geographic reach of the program is spreading, with two new sites in Virginia and interest from organizations in other states. RR has already begun to spread best practices; Virginia Tech has presented research on the program at numerous locations. The president of the partner credit union recently presented the success of the RR model to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and the Virginia Credit Union League at UVA’s Darden School of Business. Lastly, RR has already expanded from one location to a membership organization; additional funds will support the strengthening of the membership organization. In the future, this program could be replicated outside of the US.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

NGOs provide the support services necessary for the program’s success, including customer support before and after purchase, owner education and financial literacy skills. Freedom First Credit Union has demonstrated creativity and flexibility, changing underwriting procedures for RR customers who would be unable to access conventional financing. Both the credit union and Enterprise Car Sales, the company that provides the automobiles, provide financial support of the program staff to ensure continued success. This unique collaboration has led to the program’s success. The participation of Virginia Tech in evaluation and presentation of research has helped foster interest in the program from various organizations across the nation, and been invaluable to the program.