Pratt Center: NYC's Lowest-Paid Workers Have Longest Commutes
The Pratt Center published a series of maps that show commuting patterns of some 289,000 residents of 13 predominantly low- and moderate-income communities in New York City. Map via Pratt Center.

The Pratt Center published a series of maps that show commuting patterns of some 289,000 residents of 13 predominantly low- and moderate-income communities in New York City. Map via Pratt Center.

The combined cost of housing and transportation burden is significant depending on where you live. Many Americans and people all over the world struggle with an enduring trade off: spending a greater share of income on housing for a shorter commute, or spending less of their income on housing in exchange for longer commutes and increased transportation costs. In 2007, The Center for Housing released a report called, “A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families.” (You can download the full report here).  The study of 28 metropolitan areas in the U.S. found that working families spend 57 percent of their income on the combined costs of housing and transportation. On average, transportation accounts for 29 percent of families’ income.  The findings were similar across major cities from Denver to Baltimore to Honolulu.

We recently wrote about a report published by the Urban Land Institute called “The Beltway Burden,” which analyzes the combined costs of transportation and housing in the Washington, D.C. area where families spend 47 percent of their median income on these activities.

In New York, as Streetsblog’s Noah Kazis (a former blogger for TheCityFix) reports, the Pratt Center for Community Development recently released a set of maps and a study of the city’s five boroughs, called the Transportation Equity Atlas, that details the critical need for more transit options, particularly in New York City’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The report, based on U.S. Census data from 2000, finds “great disparities in transportation access between higher-income, professional workers and low-wage manual and service workers.” According to the study,  “high housing costs mean that most low-wage workers live in areas outside the city’s subway-rich core.”  And these workers tend to commute to sites dispersed widely around the city and region, a near reversal to the commuting pattern that the radial design of the subway system encourages.

The conclusion is striking: the lowest-paid workers have the longest commutes to work, which limits the geographic range of job opportunities for residents in communities with high unemployment.

In New York City, the new Select Bus System (which we wrote about recently) is only a few months old but already the Pratt Center is calling to expand BRT given its latest research. What’s more: MTA just hiked up subway fares again.

In NYC, a Financial Divide…

The Pratt Center found that 750,000 New Yorkers have a commute longer than an hour each way, and two-thirds of these commuters earn less than $35,000 a year.  A mere six percent of those long commutes are made by those earning more than $75,000 a year.

…and a Racial Divide

Black New Yorkers face the longest commute times of any racial group—25 percent longer than white commuters. And Hispanic commuters experience 12 percent longer travel times than white New Yorkers.

Job Clusters

Pratt also looked at the commuting profiles of 13 low- and moderate- income communities in the city, ranging from those with 2,000 workers to those with more than 70, 000 commuters. They also looked at major job centers in the city. According to Streetsblog, Joan Byron, one of the researchers and writers of the report, explained that in a city like New York, connecting commuters to a major job center like a hospital complex in Central Brooklyn is not a top priority because New York supports such a huge job market. Unfortunately it “isn’t even on the radar,” she says, but in any other midsize American city (she cites Cleveland), this would not be the case.

Potential for BRT

To address the gap between low-income communities and their disparate places of work, Pratt recommends building a major new BRT network . (You can read more information here.) The recommendations prioritize routes that link to job centers and provide direct connections between boroughs as well as buses that run into Manhattan in order to curb pressure on the subway system. The report also urges “clarity and consensus at the neighborhood level” in order to achieve successful implementation and design.

pratt 1 route

A close-up map of Southern Brooklyn, showing one of the Pratt Center’s recommended routes, connecting Sunset Park industrial zone to JFK Airport. The route falls within a half-mile of 600,000 residents. Each dot represents 100 commuters who commute more than one hour each way and earn less than $35,000 per year.

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