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December 07, 2015

It's All About Transportation

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 only live within walking distance of where you work.
These towns are in a "food desert"
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 just to afford a two bedroom apartment in the StamfordNorwalk corridor.
Take, for example, that poster-boy of affluence, Greenwich CT.  This 67 square mile city of 61,000 has 5545 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 $2000 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 their counterparts 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 less than eight years on the job.
EMS workers in Greenwich have it even worse, averaging 151 minutes (2 ½ 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.

1 comment:

John Neff said...

Subject: re: "It's all about transportation"

Mr. Cameron-

I have been for some time an engaged reader of your Commentary in The Darien Times and more recently in CTMirror, finding them informative and suitably cynical about apparent and undeniable gross mismanagement from Hartford. Your effort of December 10, however, was truly misguided and way off base. I do get and agree with your basic theme that transportation failures negatively affect both the local economy and quality of life. But you then, for some reason, conflate matters of effective provision of a fundamental and universally available public service with very fuzzy and highly arguable questions of social policy — food justice (whatever that means) and affordable housing. These are “problems” with many variables, of which transportation is likely among the lowest order.

Consider the following “reactions” to the content of your latest Commentary:

— It’s actually pretty amazing that 33% of Greenwich public employees live in Greenwich. As early as 1980, I recognized that likely I would never be able to afford to live in Greenwich (where my wife grew up), even though we both possessed a graduate degree and a very desirable job. That said, like Fairfield County taken as a whole, Greenwich does offer a wide range of housing options.

— Is there any logical reason why a town employee should live in the town in which they work? Should each and every town offer (be required to offer?) the complete vertical slice of housing options? Should some residents subsidize the housing choices of others? As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, Darien among others was a so-called bedroom community. The vast majority of wage earning residents worked somewhere else, esp. New York City. Despite the fact that there are more office workers in Darien and neighboring towns today, I submit that most all residents still work somewhere other than where they live.

— What is an appropriate commute time? and who should decide? Obviously, anyone doing the Darien-GCT train run is putting in 2x one hour every day, Greenwich-GCT is 2x 40 minutes at best. And maybe add on up to 2x 1/2 hour if that commuter goes down town or cross town. How does this compare with your “even worse” case of the Greenwich EMT worker?

— Isn’t housing a personal choice? based on the tradeoff between cost, community, distance? People make all kinds of sacrifices to live where they want/can given their career opportunities. Should those choosing to accept long commutes in order to best provide for their families be asked to subsidize others so that that other might cut,say, 15 minutes off his commute?

This is just the way life is, and it’s not unique to Fairfield County or dysfunctional Connecticut. For 30 years I philosophically endured an each way train+subway commute of 1-3/4 hours; my wife continues with an each way train+walking of 1-1/4 hours. In Northern Virginia my daughter drives 1 to 1-1/2 hours each way, depending on traffic. Like I said, it’s just the way it is, balancing variables to do what’s necessary.

For the future, I strongly recommend that you stick to transportation, a subject upon which you have an excellent vantage point and lengthy experience. Leave the social policy questions and arguments to the disingenuous politicians, do-gooders, and subsidy seekers.


John S. Neff