March/April 2017 Advocate: Our long commutes II


Our long commutes:  Another perspective
A long-time Skyline instructor lives in the East Bay by choice, but the commute has affected her personal life and her health

by Nina Floro, AFT 1493 Skyline Executive Committee Co-Rep.

Nearly 300 faculty in our District, including 70 full-timers, have long commutes (defined as 25 miles or more one way). The greatest concentration of faculty with long commutes live in Oakland and San Jose, but we have full-time colleagues commuting from as far away as Sonoma, Marin, Santa Cruz, Sacramento, and Stanislaus counties and part-time faculty coming from Shasta, Yolo, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Marin, Sacramento, and Calaveras counties. In her December 2016 Advocate article, CSM instructor Anne Stafford documented the wide-spread plight of so many of our long-commuting District faculty.  In the following article, Skyline instructor Nina Floro presents another viewpoint. We encourage other faculty to share their experiences and opinions on the issue. -ed.

  • Santa Clara to Skyline College, 42 miles.
  • Palo Alto to Skyline College, 29 miles.
  • Oakland to Skyline College, 25 miles.
  • Albany to Skyline College, 28 miles.
  • North Richmond to Skyline College, 30 miles.
  • And, again, Oakland to Skyline College, 28 miles.

I’ve moved six times for various reasons since I was hired full-time at Skyline College back in 1991. I love the East Bay and plan to stay put until after I retire to a place where I can afford to live on the pittance I’ll be receiving from retirement income.  My sights are set on Costa Rica, but that’s a story for another day.

The East Bay is my home

Having spent my childhood and teen years in Richmond, getting my college degrees at Cal, and raising my daughter in Oakland, I call the East Bay my home.  My husband and I have chosen to live in Oakland because of the vibe of the city and all that Oaktown has to offer. From the early years of my career up until just last year, whenever friends and relatives asked why I chose to live so far from work, I would tell them I love Oakland and the East Bay too much to move anywhere else in the Bay Area.

More recently, however, I’ve reluctantly admitted a desire to move across the Bay, not because I want to live in a new neighborhood, but because living closer to Skyline College could potentially give me back six or more hours of my life each week. Imagine what 6 hours could get a person these days—more sleep, daily neighborhood walks and fresh air, about an hour a day in the gym, several tasty home-cooked meals made from scratch, a few hours of TV breaks, more time to connect with my husband and the kids, or whatever else one longs to do but can’t because there’s just not enough time.

As a long-distance commuter to Skyline College throughout the years, I found Anne Stafford’s points in her well-written December article, “More Faculty Commuting Longer Distances,” ringing true for me on so many levels. Yes, my commute has increased from the 40-50 minute, 28-mile, one-way commute I once had between Oakland and Skyline College a few years back to what is now a commute of more than 75 minutes one way. It is worth noting, mind you, that the 75-minute one-way commute is one I do with a group of Skyline College colleagues who carpool together to save a few dollars and, more importantly, save some time by taking advantage of the “speedier” Bay Bridge carpool lane. Absent of my carpool buddies, it would take me at least 90 minutes for a one-way solo commute, with most of that time spent slogging through the Bay Bridge “maze” and sitting at the toll plaza even with a Fastrak transponder to move me more “quickly” past the toll booth and onto the Bay Bridge.  Without my carpool buddies, I try to avoid the longer solo commute by picking up “casual carpool” strangers to get me through the toll plaza more quickly; nevertheless, the time I save getting through the toll plaza is more or less negated by the time it takes me to detour at Fremont/Howard and then get back on to Hwy 101 or 280 for the remainder of my trip to Skyline.

The Personal Cost of Commuting

Just as Anne Stafford pointed out about the personal cost of commuting, I can say that my commute has impacted my home/personal life as well. It’s true I have less time to spend with my family, fewer hours to to sleep, exercise, and make healthy, home-cooked meals, and not enough time to take care of other personal business that I’ve put off for weeks, if not months. Simply stated, spending close to 2-1/2 hours in the car each day for over 25 years has reduced my quality of life.

Sometimes, I joke with people and tell them that carpooling from the East Bay to San Bruno has taken years off of my life.  I intend this comment to be an exaggeration, but who knows, it may very well be true. Unlike Anne Stafford, who admits her fondness for numbers, I’m not too fond of them, so I haven’t computed the in-the-car-number-of-hours enough to know whether the 25+ years of commuting to and fro have literally amounted to years.  What I do know is that the long-distance commute feels like I’ve spent years of my life in a car. I also know that my daily commute has taken its toll on my health and well-being. I suffer from a chronic illness, and sitting in a car for hours every day is a literal pain in my butt, legs, and back, especially on days when I drive my old, 5-speed, 2-seater to work, which I do on any given day to maintain the legal number of occupants needed for the carpool lane.

Needless to say, it’s too late to sell my house in Oakland and buy a new one in San Francisco or anywhere on the “other side of the Bay.” Even on two decent incomes, my husband and I just can’t afford to move.  Besides, the “extra” hard-earned money we’re not spending on our mortgage and obscene property taxes goes to feed our family, pay for the kids’ college education, cover the high cost of health insurance premiums, put gas in our cars, and the list goes on.

Skyline’s BART shuttle is a great option, but…

Although Skyline College offers an hourly shuttle service between Daly City BART and the College, it runs only once an hour and, for me, still leads to at least a 90-minute, door-to-door commute. I love that the BART and shuttle option helps me reduce my carbon footprint, but it also takes away the flexibility I have to arrive on campus sooner, stay on campus a little longer, or leave campus a few minutes early so that I can get home earlier. Taking the shuttle on occasion has helped to get me out of my car and saved me from driving.  However, it hasn’t done much to save me time or money since I can’t read on BART because of motion sickness, and having to pay for parking and a round-trip BART fare could run from $12-$15 a day. As far as my colleagues at CSM and Cañada go, they’re out of luck since no reasonable time and money-saving public transit option from the East Bay exists for them.

I chose to live in the East Bay long ago, not because of lower housing costs, but because of personal preferences, so I try really hard not to complain much about my daily commute. Now, though, I don’t have much of a choice but to stay in Oakland until I’m ready to quit the Bay Area altogether, sell my house, and move somewhere that my retirement income will sustain me. Twenty-five years ago, I was fortunate enough to have had choices for where I wanted to live and how long I wanted my commute to be.  However, that isn’t the case these days for recently hired colleagues who do prefer to live closer to their campuses but find themselves with salaries that leave them no choice but to commute from far-away places such as Castro Valley, San Jose, Richmond, Concord, Livermore, or even farther away.