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Bronx Commutes

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You might think that compared to where you live, New York has a pretty good public transportation system. And by some metrics, that’s probably true. But New York needs a massive infusion of money for upgraded public transportation, both in improving the current infrastructure and for new routes. Because the commute times are insane for city residents:

Bronx residents now have the country’s second-longest average commute to work, with its fellow outer boroughs close behind.

According to a POLITICO New York analysis of data released by the United States Census Bureau this week, the average Bronx worker needed an estimated 43.1 minutes to get to their jobs. This was quicker than only Charles County, Maryland, where the daily trek many residents make to Washington brings the total up 44.2 minutes each way.

“The good news is that at least Bronx residents are back in the labor force,” said former Bronx Assemblymember Michael Benjamin.

The third through fifth slots in the country were occupied by Queens (42.8 minutes), Staten Island (42.7 minutes), and Brooklyn (42.2 minutes). However, the margin of error in the census numbers is large enough that it’s feasible that any one of these counties occupies the country’s top spot in reality. For example, including the Bronx’s margin of error indicates the average travel time was between 42 and 44.1 minutes; in Brooklyn, it was between 41.7 and 42.7 minutes.

Of course given Albany’s control over the city, the chances of this happening are somewhere between nil and a black hole.

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  • Srsly Dad Y

    Huh. I seem to have made poor home and employment choices, because those times look short to me, and I live inside the DC beltway.

    • JL

      To me the times seem normal if you’re biking or walking/running or on public transit, but horrible, though sadly not rare, if you’re in a car. If you’re biking or running your commute time is also your workout time and makes you feel better physically during the rest of the day. If you’re on public transit, people who work at computers can do work during that time, and people who don’t, or who don’t have laptops, can use the time to read, play games on their phones, check email, get up and walk around, etc. If you’re in a car, you’re stuck having to pay attention to driving for such a long period of time.

      This might, more than anything, reflect the extent to which I dislike driving.

      • Jhoosier

        I moved to be closer to my current job (2.5hrs one way on the train? Why did I ever think that was possible?), and explicitly decided to live close enough to bike. 30min each way and I’ve never felt better. Well, not since I last had a 30min bike commute. My previous job was a 10-15min walk on either side of a 30min train ride, but I can’t tell if it was the over-crowded trains or the job that stressed me.

      • But – and I can only speak for D.C. – if you’re in a car and something goes haywire you have alternate routes to your destination. In addition, public transportation can and does fuck up people who have strict time-keeping requirements and – again in D.C. – any job that starts or ends outside of operating hours is unavailable to people who rely on public transport.

        And that’s plain old going to and from work by one mode of transportation without transfers. When you add transfers (especially to or from a bus), kids who need to be taken to/picked up from school, shopping, working out or any of the other things people do during their commute, D.C. public transport is shit.

        And I say that as someone who takes it every day. I’m just lucky enough that I don’t have to punch a clock or grovel if I’m late. (Although I have missed a meeting or two thanks to WMATA.)

        If you’re on public transit, people who work at computers can do work during that time

        I’ve done this when I’ve had to due to procrastination, but my initial reaction to the idea of work during non-work hours is – No.

        • sharculese

          As awful as WMATA can be I always felt more fucked over by MTA. During last January’s snows I sat at the bus stop for an hour for a class I never got to because MTA didn’t bother to tell people buses weren’t running.

          • I just don’t view MTA as as being consistently clusterfucked (exception for its management of the ICC bus lines), but my use is primarily WMATA with some Ride-On.

            And it may be that I have high expectations for our nation’s capital’s excessively expensive public transportation system.

        • Philip

          I’ve done this when I’ve had to due to procrastination, but my initial reaction to the idea of work during non-work hours is – No.

          I have a pretty long commute (15-20 minute bike rides on either end of ~a 55 minute train ride), so sometimes I just treat it as work hours. If I don’t have any late-afternoon meetings, some days I’ll just leave work an hour early and work on the train home.

      • xaaronx

        “If you’re on public transit, people who work at computers can do work during that time, and people who don’t, or who don’t have laptops, can use the time to read, play games on their phones, check email, get up and walk around, etc.”

        You have clearly never taken a morning 7 train from Queens into the city. Unless you get on in
        Flushing, you need pushers like Japanese trains have just to fit in. You’re not doing much more than trying to survive at that point. You can’t move enough to get a laptop out of your bag, let alone do any work.

    • Fosco

      Yeah, I had the same thought. I live near a red line inside the beltway and 45 minutes is about average (barring random delays, track work, or train malfunctions. So, 3 days out of 5).

      • pseudalicious

        Same. I was really surprised that that was considered a lot. I think the commuter bus from the MD suburbs into DC was about… 90 minutes, last time I did it? That said, the impulse to say, “Shut yer yap, I have it worse” usually doesn’t inspire progressive policy change, so, idk.

        • Fosco

          True enough, we should all have better commutes. I remain surprised that people of the Bronx (and transitively, I) have the second-worst commute in the nation.

    • Sly

      Yeah, it seems that the D.C. metropolitan area has the worst public transit commute times in the country. And this is surprising to no one who has had to rely on the Metro to get from one place to another on a daily basis.

    • esc

      I suspect it’s partially a function of how many people can work where they live. I live in North Jersey, and I’ve known plenty of people with hellish commutes, but I’ve also known plenty of people who live a hop, skip, and a jump from their jobs as everything from corporate peons to teachers to medical professionals to retail workers. How many people in the Bronx or Queens get that?

    • JonH

      45 minutes is similar to my commute when I worked in Boston and lived in Cambridge, Somerville, and Quincy. (Not at the same time.)

    • searcher

      Keep in mind that we’re talking about *average* commute times.

      The Bronx isn’t like your typical suburban commute, where everyone in the suburb drives to the next business district over to work. A yuuuge number of people are going to be working in the same neighborhood they live in — at the countless bodegas, hair salons, groceries, restaurants, shops, hospitals, daycares, doctor’s offices, schools, etc which dot New York — for a perfectly reasonable 5, 10, or 20 minute commute.

      And *even with* all the people pulling down the mean, the Bronx *still* has an average 43-minute commute. That’s a lot of people with hour+ commutes to pull that average back up.

  • Bronx is getting it’s own economic revival, now that every other fucking place in the city is too expensive to live. The South Bronx, in particular, has seen two movie studios either open or begin construction with a third on the way.

    This precise meme regenerated western Queens (Silvercup and Astoria Studios) to the point where, less than thirty years later, it has established itself as an upper-middle to middle class neighborhood.

    • wca

      Bronx is getting it’s own economic revival, now that every other fucking place in the city is too expensive to live.

      The Italians predicted the economic revival of the Bronx way back in the 80s

      “Leave the Bronx! You are ordered to leave the Bronx!”

    • Thirtyish

      Agreed. I spend a fair amount of time in the South Bronx area for work, and I’d say that it’s well on its way to a gentrification process.

  • Orphos

    Boston has a similarly bleak outlook for its public transit. The fiscal control board just released the new outlook.

    The T’s annual operating budget is “unsustainable,” and could lead to a $427 million budget gap by 2020 if officials do not address the rate of growth.

    ■ T officials say they would need nearly $7.3 billion to fully upgrade its infrastructure to good working order. The T should have been spending about $472 million on upgrades to its vehicles, tracks and other infrastructure. But since 2009, the T has only been spending an average of about $389 million a year.

    […]

    The board also wants to further examine positive train control, a technology that could help prevent train crashes.

    The T in the past has said such a system, which is required by law, will cost the agency nearly $490 million.

    It’s not a problem like NYC, but it’s quite a problem. And the fact that they’re pondering whether or not to install a safety system required by law… words fail.

    • Malaclypse

      Baker’s election was bad fucking news for the T. He has a real hard-on for busting that union.

      • Jeff R.

        And he didn’t let a crisis go to waste. The fiscal control board was created as part of the response to last winter’s abysmal service.

        • Malaclypse

          Yep. “We have a crisis brought on by decades of deferred maintenance and underfunding, so let’s blame the union.”

      • Orphos

        Yeah, the report even points out the (estimated [by them]) $14m lost from employee absences, even though that’s peanuts compared to the infrastructure spending that’s where the real problems lie…

  • the average Bronx worker needed an estimated 43.1 minutes to get to their jobs. This was quicker than only Charles County, Maryland, where the daily trek many residents make to Washington brings the total up 44.2 minutes each way.

    What is the article comparing? To my knowledge there’s nothing you’d call public transportation from Charles Co. to D.C. Certainly not rail service.

    You might think that compared to where you live, New York has a pretty good public transportation system. And by some metrics, that’s probably true.

    How about the “Not having to walk through dark fucking tunnels with 3rd rails that may or may not be hot because the local public transportation system can’t handle a simple power outage” metric? (Stand by for wingnuts blaming Pope Fran’s arrival.)

    • It’s not comparing public transportation times. Commuting however is the comparison.

      • So … something’s off. Where’s the assumption that the Bronx workers (or the majority of) are taking public transport coming from?

        Edit – And if that is the assumption, then their commutes need to be compared to other PT commutes (and distance should also be a factor, I think).

        • It’s more my assumption I guess because I have trouble seeing too many of them driving around New York–but maybe I am wrong.

        • djw

          As of 2010, commuter mode share for those emanating from the Bronx:

          Car 37%
          Bus 16%
          Subway 35%
          Walk 7%
          Other 6%

          Since that study I’m sure the mix is a little less car centric; South Bronx in particular is seeing one of the larger shifts toward transit commuting in the city in recent years.

          It would definitely be more informative to see the commute times broken down by mode.

          • One of the reasons it’s important is it helps when thinking about solutions. Or even whether certain solutions have a hope in hell of being considered.

            But then, you’d also have to know about who commuting and in what way.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    So could part of the increase be explained by the fact that the boroughs are attracting more people who commute to Manhattan? Brooklyn to midtown took me at least 45 minutes door to door back in the 90s.

    • Barry Freed

      When I lived in Astoria, my commute was about 25-30 minutes to midtown Manhattan which wasn’t bad at all. Of course it helped that the 42nd St Bryant Park stop was right under my place of work. Besides walking is good for you and time on the subway = time to read which I always enjoyed.

    • Yes, almost certainly.

    • JonH

      I would think it might be commuting from the Bronx to work locations outside of Manhattan by public transit. That would often mean working in an area with less public transit, and having to rely on slow buses for all or part of the trip.

      Worst case would probably be commuting from the Bronx, through Manhattan, to another borough.

  • andrew97

    Suck it up, New York. I read this as I sat down at my desk after my usual hour-long commute. “Toronto residents have the longest commutes in the province — 65.6 minutes on average — longer than the 63.6 minutes reported by Oshawa commuters and 59.2 minutes by those from Barrie. The Ontario average was 47 minutes. Montreal and Vancouver commutes average 62 and 60 minutes respectively.” source

    • djw

      I’ve always been struck by the seemingly low commuting transit mode shares in Toronto/Montreal/Vancouver, given their seemingly impressive transit systems–they’re all stuck in the low 20’s, which compared to American cities puts them well below the good transit cities, and on par with cities with obviously inferior public transit (Seattle, Pittsburgh).

      • Scott Lemieux

        One issue with Montreal is that the public transit is fantastic within the core of the city, but the subway system is relatively small, so most public transit commutes from the suburbs take forever.

      • altofront

        The answer with Vancouver is partly that they built most of the LRT lines not where demand would be greatest but where it was cheapest or easiest to do so (see the original Skytrain line, which followed an old railroad right-of-way), or for other reasons (see the Richmond airport line, which mostly runs through very low density areas).

        • The Temporary Name

          Development in Vancouver is following those train lines.

          • altofront

            This is somewhat true, although mostly in the sense of tallish condo buildings sprouting up immediately next to the stations that were plunked down in sparsely populated industrial wastelands. Not much is happening around many of the stations in residental areas. And keep in mind that people have been saying “development will follow the train lines” for 30 years…

  • Rob in CT

    Beats my mother’s old commute (1.75 hrs each way). Watching that made me determined to avoid it. It was like the torture scene in The Princess Bride. “I’ve just sucked one year of your life away.”

    [most of that commute was via commuter rail, so it’s not like she was sitting in traffic. Still.]

    • TribalistMeathead

      My commute is about 75 minutes by train and bus each way. It’s less soul-sucking than driving, but it’s still 2.5 hours a day that I’m not spending doing something preferable to sitting on a train or bus.

      • Rob in CT

        Plus however long it takes you to get from home to the train and from the train to the office. My mom’s old commute broke down to 15 minutes drive time from home to the train station, 1:15 on the train, and then a 15 minute walk from Grand Central to her office.

        I did that for one summer as an intern and it nearly killed me. Holy shit.

    • Every once in a while, some reporter with nothing better to do finds some damned soul who commutes via LIRR from the end (Montauk or Greenport) and therefore spends something like 7 hours a day on the railroad. I’ve read that same article every few years going back to high school.

      • Ahuitzotl

        ah, but is it the same guy being interviewed every time?

        • We have reached the single-pixel limit of my memory.

      • Richard Gadsden

        There was a news story recently about a guy who commuted from Barcelona to London. By air. Daily.

        Turns out it was only while he was working out his notice period and he had a new job in Barca, but still.

  • sharonT

    44 minutes is nothing. My Baltimore to Crystal City, VA commute is two hours each way.

  • Joe_JP

    I have a reason to be concerned about this but do note that many people live in suburbs and need to commute more than one hour each way. Not sure how much you can shave off the commute here. If one can take an express, it also can be a pretty quick trip.

    Much of this time will be spent on those who need to take local stops on the subway. It will take let’s say 10m for some to get to the subway & the subway will take a few minutes to come. There are numerous local stops on the subway trains in the Bronx. It will take a minute or two each stop. Then, it is going to take 10-15m to travel in Manhattan. Even high speed trains will take some time, e.g., to get from 125th to lower Manhattan all things considered.

    I also note that even taking an express would result in a 35m trip on the MetroNorth to get to White Plains NY, a suburb. These trains run less often than subways so you might have to wait more. It can take again time to get there. They only go to mid-town, so if you work outside that area, you might have to add another 20m of travel time (it takes about 5m to walk to the train to subway alone).

    Those who live in Queens and Brooklyn might be in trouble if they live in more isolated areas but those areas are closer to work places in Manhattan in many cases. Staten Island residents deal with the ferry, which is free, but takes about 25m or so, plus might have to take a form of a subway or bus.

  • NewishLawyer

    Was this study only looking at public transport?

    I was in court in Plesanton this week and SF to Plesanton takes an hour. This is relatively a reverse commute. People commute from Solano county to SF.

    • But plenty of people do live nearby in these places.

      • NewishLawyer

        I still think Bay Area traffic is insane. Court ended in the early afternoon on Monday and when I was driving back to SF, the routes to the East Bay were already clogged with traffic. This was around 1 PM or 2 PM.

        • Philip

          South Bay too. My bike-train-bike from Inner Richmond to Mountain View and back is still less than some of the people taking the shuttles, because the train doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

      • NewishLawyer

        I also work in Marin but live in SF. I think my commute to Marin is just as long as my co-workers who live in Sonoma or Solano because they get caught in traffic heading to SF even if they are closer to the office.

        • pianomover

          I drove my son to school in Oakland 17 miles from our house in Richmond for a year. Even being able to use the diamond lane it took at best 40 minutes. I feel like this study left out the whole of California.
          Btw I would take a subway commute over driving any day.

    • joe from Lowell

      No, the study (the US Census, actually) was looking at the reported commute times of residents of the Bronx, across all modes.

  • Manny Kant

    I’m not really sure this study tells us anything other than “not many people who live in the outer boroughs actually work there.” Anyone commuting into the city from the suburbs is likely going to have a longer commute, it’s just that there’s a good number of people in North Jersey or Long Island or whatever who work near where they live, while that’s apparently less true in the outer boroughs.

    • Yeah, also people who live in the Bronx can easily get to Yonkers and Mount Vernon and other places in Westchester County, with possibly poorer public transportation and no real limit on distance.

  • Woodrowfan

    45 minutes is not an awful commute in DC. I know plenty of folks with worse. But if I had to guess at an average commute around here I’d have guessed 45-50 minutes.

    I don’t know if the other DCites around here have experience the same thing, but I’ve noticed that commute times confer bragging rights at both extremes. People brag about either how short their commute is (mine is 15 minutes, ha!) or how long. The latter is always expressed as a complaint, (It took me 2 hours to get home last night!) but it leads to one-up-man-ship. (In last year’s snow storm it took me three hours just to get outside the beltway!)

    • Srsly Dad Y

      I’m an exception. I just switched from a 30-min car commute to a 1:10 (minimum) commute by bus/train/bus, because I prefer to read on my phone and edit my work during my commute. I tell people how nice it is.

      • Denverite

        Back when I was working with people NYC, I knew several who preferred to live farther out on a train line because it gave them time to do substantive work. They said that less than 35-40 minutes really just gave them time to answer emails and the like (this was in early blackberry days).

    • Srsly Dad Y

      ETA: the consensus of commenters so far seems contrary to the OP’s line that 45 mins by public transit is “insane.” In a big city on the East Coast it’s really not, and, as Barry said, a lot of that time might involve walking.

  • The Temporary Name

    God damn it, now my commute seems insane.

  • Denverite

    Yay! My commute this morning was 26 minutes, and that included waiting in the car line to drop the kids off at kindergarten.

  • Sebastian_h

    Part of the problem with expanding in NYC is that the cost per mile of new subway is enormously higher than anywhere else in the entire world. See for example here.

    Even San Francisco, and London (the other places with highest per/km costs) are about half as expensive. I can only imagine that it is some sort of unholy confluence of right-wing and left-wing factors (high property prices and high property protection as in SF/London/Japan) with very high union costs and hard to satisfy environmental review factors (much worse than Berlin and Paris apparently) and contracting procurement craziness (which I wouldn’t attribute to left/right).

  • CJColucci

    My normal Bronx-financial district commute is about an hour. On the rare occasions that I need to drive, it;’s usually about the same. Today, Yom Kippur, I needed to drive in and managed 40 minutes.

    • NewishLawyer

      One of the (many) things I miss about New York is the super-easiness of being Jewish there.

      The Bay Area is super-liberal and everyone is perfectly cool and respectful about me needing to not work on the High Holidays but the Bay Area Jewish population is relatively small and dispersed across many counties. Life continues as normal here, in NY it feels like things are slower and lots of stuff (schools, universities, etc) do close on the High Holidays. You can leave early for Seder.

  • ralphdibny

    Keep in mind that in NYC, the subways are also the school buses. In the 90s I taught at an NYC public school. It was down by the Holland Tunnel, but many of the students lived in the Bronx. Their commute times were closer to an hour and a half. I averaged 3-6 students a day in my first period English class.

  • LiveFreeOrShop

    Interesting but I’d like to see a better survey, one that was not self-reported. Federal and, in New York, State agencies are notorious for completely screwing up these types of surveys. They rarely “get” what urban areas are about and consequently misjudge what’s going on and what’s needed. And the state-run MTA is inept beyond imagination (not that any of them have ever set foot on NYC mass transit).

    So I don’t take these numbers as gospel–they could even be completely off.

    Speaking of unreliable data, I haven’t noticed a particular decrease in subway service over the past 5 years of so (except during weekend repairs, which are a mess). Bus service, however, has declined significantly, because of stupid route cuts, increased demand, and greater traffic congestion.

  • mch

    This report isn’t clear at all on how the averages were arrived at. For instance, were people who live a five-minute walk from their work included, or only people who use public transportation or drive their own car? Without clarity on points like that, the averages mean nothing.

    That said, my son and his partner lived for several years in the Bronx (near Riverdale) until a few months ago, and the “subway” (a good deal of it elevated) trip (not including the 5 or 10 minute walk to the subway) to Columbia (way upper west side, so not many miles) took over half an hour at best; late trains, slow trains, and breakdowns occurred constantly (which often meant walking to another station — so also add more walking time). My daughter and her partner can make it into Manhattan (lower east side and midtown) from Brooklyn much faster if only because the trains from there run better.

    The bus routes are insanely slow, especially across town (just within the Bronx). And for many destinations, there is no train, only the bus.

    Service to and from the Bronx is terrible for an obvious reason: many poor people live there, and many people who are black and brown.

    Many of the commutes from Westchester Co., western CN, and NJ into Manhattan are much faster than commutes there from the other boroughs. Which is one reason so many people who work in Manhattan live in those suburbs.

    • Eli Rabett

      Metro North and NJ Transit run services with many fewer stops, thus faster.

  • Eli Rabett

    This is nothing new. It has always taken about 40 minutes to get into midtown from end of the line Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

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