New Center for an Urban Future Report Finds That NYC’s Half-Million Healthcare Workers Have the Worst Transit Commutes of Any Industry

Feb. 9, 2018
A new report published by the Center for an Urban Future reveals that New York City’s half-million healthcare workers face the worst commutes of any industry.

A new report published by the Center for an Urban Future reveals that New York City’s half-million healthcare workers face the worst commutes of any industry. The study finds that while most New Yorkers are experiencing transit problems these days, healthcare employees who rely on public transit have the longest median commutes of any workers in the private sector and, in recent decades, have seen their commutes increase at more than double the rate of all workers in the city. The study attributes the lengthy commutes to serious transit gaps in the boroughs outside Manhattan, where healthcare jobs are growing rapidly but transit options are often strikingly limited.

At a press conference this morning to release the report, healthcare leaders, transit advocates, and the chairs of the City Council’s transportation and health committees joined the Center for an Urban Future in calling on transit officials, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor de Blasio to make new investments to improve bus and subway service in the boroughs outside of Manhattan. Speakers included Maria Castaneda, secretary/treasurer of 1199SEIU; Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Transportation Committee; Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the Health Committee; Tabitha Decker, deputy executive director, TransitCenter; Stephanie Burgos-Veras, senior organizer, Riders Alliance; and Jonathan Bowles, executive director, Center for an Urban Future.

“All New Yorkers have good reason to be frustrated with the city’s transit system right now, but the city’s healthcare workers arguably have it worst,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, an independent think tank that focuses on expanding economic opportunity and growing the economy in NYC. “And the problems aren’t only related to subway delays and overcrowded trains. The reality is that bus and subway service in the four boroughs outside Manhattan simply hasn’t kept pace with massive increases in the number of New Yorkers working and living there.”

According to the report, which was funded by TransitCenter, the transit challenges facing healthcare workers stem from a handful of factors:

Many of the city’s hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices are located in neighborhoods outside of Manhattan with severely limited transit options.

  • 32 percent of major healthcare employers in NYC are more than 8 blocks from a subway stop.
  • Nearly 320,000 healthcare jobs — 65 percent of the city’s total — are in the four boroughs outside Manhattan. 
  • The boroughs are also where much of the indus­try’s meteoric growth is occurring. Over the past decade, healthcare jobs increased by 55 percent in Brooklyn, 39 percent in Queens, 18 percent in the Bronx, and 10 percent on Staten Island — compared to 15 percent in Manhattan.

A significant share of the city’s healthcare workers rely on the bus to get to their jobs — and bus service across the five boroughs is unreliable and does not run frequently enough.  

  • There are 80,706 daily bus commuters in the city’s healthcare sector, more than in any other industry. 
  • More workers in healthcare take the bus to work every day (80,706) than do all retail and food service workers combined (78,291).
  • While bus ridership has declined in Manhattan, it has increased significantly in many of the communities where healthcare employers are growing. In Brooklyn, 4 of the 5 fastest-growing bus routes provide service to major healthcare providers. Bus routes serving several large healthcare employers in Queens and the Bronx have experienced double- and triple-digit growth.

Many healthcare workers live in neighborhoods that require intra-borough commutes between neighborhoods that aren’t connected by a single subway or bus line.  

  • As one example, Interfaith Medical Center in Bed­ford-Stuyvesant is only a short walk from the A and C trains. But while a majority of the hospital’s employees live in Brooklyn, most reside in more affordable neighborhoods south of the hospital that aren’t on the same subway line. Of the hospital’s 1,400 employees, 119 live in Canarsie and 69 live in Flatlands —  resulting in commutes that typically require two bus rides or one lengthy bus ride and a considerable walk.
  • The 11,235 healthcare workers who commute from Queens Village, Cambria Heights, and Rosedale do not have a single subway station in their neighborhood. The 17,721 healthcare workers who live in Canarsie and Flatlands have just one station at the very northern tip of their district’s geographic boundary.
  • 84 percent of all New Yorkers employed in healthcare jobs live in the four boroughs outside Manhattan. By comparison, 78 percent of all NYC workers live outside Manhattan.

The study includes over a dozen achievable policy recommendations for improving transit for the healthcare sector and all New Yorkers. They include:

  • Make new investments in transit service in the four boroughs outside of Manhattan. 
  • Enact Fix NYC or some other congestion pricing proposal, and require a key portion of the new funds to support outer borough transit investments. 
  • Launch a bus rescue plan to improve the speed and reliability of bus service. 

“On-time care means quality and safe care for our patients, the elderly and infirmed, and for disabled people. It's a 24/7 job,” said Maria Castaneda, secretary-treasurer of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “An inefficient transportation system creates real hardships for healthcare workers, by putting them at risk of being disciplined for lateness, and in the form of physical stress that takes away 100 percent focus on quality patient care. A reliable and efficiently planned transportation system is critical in delivering quality care for New Yorkers, and 1199SEIU stands with our sisters and brothers here today in calling for true investment in our transportation infrastructure."

"Committing to improving our public transit system would be committing to the financial success of millions of working class New Yorkers, especially healthcare professionals. As economic forces push folks to live farther and farther away from their place of work, we cannot expect them to pay higher fares for their commute while receiving poorer and poorer service. It is costing them money, time, and their own well-being to care for ours. Let's commit to getting our public transit system on the right track," said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council Committee on Transportation.

“Millions of New Yorkers depend on NYC’s bus system which provides essential connections to our communities,” said Council Member Brad Lander, Deputy Leader for Policy. “But our buses are slow and unreliable. This report shows that our Health Care workers are suffering the most, with some of the longest commutes in the City. These workers provide care and comfort to our loved ones and even save lives on a daily basis, but are facing miserable commutes as a result of this huge disparity in our transit system. I want to thank the Center for an Urban Future, 1199 SEIU, Riders Alliance and Transit Center for bringing attention to this critical issue. We must reinvest in our buses and dramatically expand the city’s ‘bus rapid transit’ system to serve these workers and all New Yorkers who are underserved by transportation.” 

“The life of a healthcare worker means that you are always needed to go into work, no matter what the weather is or how bad the trains or buses are working that day,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “In the outer boroughs, these workers are being overburdened by some of the longest commutes in the country and we must do everything in our power to improve outer borough service, particularly in communities not served by the subway system. From Freedom Ticket to Select Bus Service, we owe it to our hardest workers to ensure they can have a safe and healthy commute to work. I’d like to thank the Center for an Urban Future, 1199, the Riders Alliance and all of our healthcare workers who dedicate their lives to healing others. It’s about time that we heal our ailing transit system.”

“New York depends heavily on its healthcare workforce. It's unacceptable to leave these hard-working women and men frustrated and worn down by trips that take longer than they should. Since healthcare jobs are often located beyond the reach of the subway, fast and reliable bus service is one of the most important things that can improve healthcare workers' commutes,” said Tabitha Decker, deputy director at TransitCenter, a foundation that supports advocacy research and leadership development for transit reform, and which funded this report.

"With our healthcare workers all too often stuck in gridlock, New Yorkers' very health depends on getting bus riders moving again. Healthcare workers count on Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Transit President Andy Byford to heal our ailing bus network and provide accessible and reliable public transit to New Yorkers that depend on it as a matter of equity. The issue is clear, healthcare workers need better bus service to get to their jobs, now Mayor Bill de Blasio and Byford need the political will to turnaround our buses and stand up for bus riders. Riders are grateful to the Center for Urban Future for shedding a light to the ever-growing transit gap affecting healthcare workers citywide,” said Stephanie Burgos-Veras, Senior Organizer at the Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy organization.