Image via Flickr.

Since the MTA started threatening to shut down the L train to make repairs on damage from Hurricane Sandy, there’s been a flurry of panic from some of the the wealthier residents of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Now the date is set, and they just can’t believe that they’ll have to get on a crowded hourlong bus ride every morning and every night for work. Surprise: for a lot of people in NYC, that’s already the reality.


The New York Times interviewed residents traveling from around the boroughs to jobs in Manhattan about what their daily commute looks like. It looks like shit! The cheaper your rent, the less likely it is that you live near a functioning subway station, and the further you are from your job.

Rents get higher as you get closer to the city. Certain parts of Williamsburg are astronomically expensive, but very convenient. One resident from Queens explained how he felt about these complaints, and also explained the concept of a dollar van:


“The first thing that came to mind is, ‘Suck it up,’” said Philippe Pierre, 26, who commutes more than an hour each way to Manhattan from Rosedale, Queens, a neighborhood east of Kennedy International Airport without a subway stop.

In the morning, Mr. Pierre usually takes a dollar van, which actually costs $2, to the E train at Jamaica Center and transfers to the B or D line to get to his information technology job near Columbus Circle. At night, he sometimes splurges on a $10 Long Island Rail Road trip that drops him near his home.

“I’m not the only one who thinks the bus is too slow, so they created an industry where dollar vans, now $2 vans, were created,” he said. “Maybe they could do something like that.”

The Internet enjoys mocking the hair-pulling of rich people stressing about leaving their apartments for another train line by January 2019, or learning to rub shoulders with each other on a halting bus ride across the bridge. However, Williamsburg isn’t exclusively inhabited by the wealthy, and the L train doesn’t end at Morgan Ave. It continues deep into Brooklyn, connecting to the Rockaways, and serves a lot of lower income people who are just trying to get to work.

A train line that goes down or fails to serve the communities it’s supposed to is not usually a story we hear about, even though it’s happening all the time. As the NYT points out, having a long commute often keeps people trapped in poverty and separates kids from their education:


A Harvard University study on upward mobility found a link between commuting times and a child’s likelihood of escaping poverty. “Across the U.S., the pattern you see is that neighborhoods with shorter commute times produce better outcomes for low-income kids,” said Nathaniel Hendren, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard who worked on the study.

In New York City, about three-quarters of residential units are within a half mile of a subway station, according to a 2015 report by New York University’s Furman Center. The statistics vary widely by borough: In Manhattan, about 94 percent of units are near the subway, compared with about 54 percent of units in Queens. Staten Island is the only borough that the subway does not reach, though many commuters take the Staten Island Railway and the free Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan.

A lot of the folks crowding the Bedford stop can probably afford to Uber pool to work. Some advocates are using the L train shut down to push for changes in infrastructure around buses, expanding bus only lanes and adding to the fleet. It would be great if we could also use this shut down to talk about how the MTA fails to serve New York City’s residents who don’t have other options.