By Peter Maiden
Facing a woefully inadequate transportation situation in the town of Huron, now Huron Mayor Rey León founded the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement Project (Valley LEAP) in 2008. Taking the bus to Fresno for a medical appointment, 50 miles away, took five hours round trip, and there was only one bus a day. The need is even greater now in the Covid-19 pandemic, with people needing access to vaccinations, testing and other medical care.
Valley LEAP did some social research and documented a widespread informal system of transporting people in private cars for a small fee. The drivers, often trusted retired farmworkers, were called raiteros. The term raite is common in Mexico and means to take someone by car. Among farmworkers, to have a raite means to have transportation to work, to the fields. So raiteros are the drivers.
Valley LEAP at first put some city-owned hybrid vehicles to use driving people to their appointments and crucial errands, on the model of the raiteros. Later using funds from foundation grants, a couple of small all-electric vehicles were acquired.
León published an article in 2014 on the Zócalo Public Square website called “The Central Valley Was Ride-Sharing Long Before Uber.” He wrote: “At Valley LEAP, we want to see the city’s raiteros go ‘green.’
“With careful scheduling, raiteros could earn an income and spend less on gas by, for example, taking a family to a child’s asthma appointment at the Central California Children’s Hospital in Madera County.”
León concluded, “California is always ahead of the game when it comes to technology and innovation. It’s time to embrace the Valley’s social innovation and stimulate a fluid system to connect our orchards, crops, neighborhoods, downtowns and more than 20 educational institutions.”
This month, General Motors donated to Valley LEAP the use, for six months, of three 2022 Chevy Volt all-electric automobiles. León hopes to raise funds to purchase them at the end of that six-month period.
On Aug. 11, Valley LEAP held a press conference with a ceremonial presentation of the vehicles.
Juanita Martínez of General Motors said, “Rey León reached out to us and told us about the efforts that he’s had here in Huron. And we just felt that it was important for us to be able to not only contribute the vehicles for our efforts in becoming an electric company but also to help with the Covid efforts.
“GM has had a history in the last year of the pandemic helping out through our ventilators [and] our donation of masks, a million masks last year. This is just another step for us in helping to combat Covid.”
León said, “We want to let everybody know that we have additional capacity with these vehicles in our fleet. So do not hesitate to call us, to become a client for our Green Raiteros program, so that we can take you to whatever medical or social service appointment that you may have.”
Peter Maiden is the photo editor of the Community Alliance newspaper.