While this column often is a rant about failing commuter rail service or an occasional rave for overdue investment in our highways, when you think about it, transportation is really an issue that affects many aspects of our lives.
Jobs: If it wasn’t for transportation, 99% of us wouldn’t be able to get to our jobs. It is thanks to Metro-North and yes, even I-95, that we can live in one place and work in another. Imagine how your life would change if you could live only within walking distance of where you work.
Food justice: The East End of Bridgeport, our state’s biggest city, is a food desert. For 35 years there has been no supermarket, forcing residents (a third of whom have no cars) to spend 45 minutes taking two buses just to go to the store. A lack of transportation has meant fewer nutritional choices and increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
Affordable housing: Daily commuters on our clogged highways are not masochists. The only reason they must commute is that they cannot afford to live where their jobs are. A recent report showed that housing in lower Fairfield County is the most expensive in the nation. You need an income of $70,000 to afford just a two-bedroom apartment in the Stamford-Norwalk corridor.
Take, for example, that poster boy of affluence, Greenwich Conn. This 67-square-mile city of 61,000 has 5,545 town employees … teachers, cops, firefighters, and the like. However, 67% of those workers don’t live in Greenwich but commute daily from Danbury, Bridgeport, Westchester, and even Long Island. They spend an average of 103 minutes per day just getting to and from work, paying more than $2,000 a year for gas. Combined, they add 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, just by their commuting.
In a city where the median home price is $2 million, the average Greenwich city worker makes $65,000. And because these teachers, civil servants and such have to come so far, they have to be paid more salary. The average teacher in Greenwich earns $12,338 a year more than his or her counterpart elsewhere in the state.
The Greenwich schools spend $10,000 to $15,000 recruiting and training each new teacher. But after five years of commuting (75% of the 912 teachers don’t live in Greenwich), they burn out, leave and find jobs elsewhere. Between 1998 and 2007, 581 teachers left Greenwich for reasons other than retirement and 81% of them had fewer than eight years on the job.
EMS workers in Greenwich have it even worse, averaging 151 minutes (two and one-half hours!) commute time. Just how fresh and ready for life-saving work do you think you’d be with a commute like that?
Our governor is right: Investing in transportation will mean more than saving time on our daily commute. Quality transportation means better access to jobs, to housing and food.
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com. For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.