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Walking to work, 21 miles a day

Here’s a glimpse of life in Detroit, far from us in North Carolina, but where the circumstances may ring familiar for thousands also trying to figure out how to get to work without much reliable transportation around.

James Robertson, a machine operator from Detroit, works 23 miles from his home, in a metropolitan area where public transportation is spotty.

His solution has been to walk – a combined 21 miles a day – in order to get to and from work every day. He’s been doing the four to six-hour commute, which also includes taking two buses, since his car broke down a decade ago.

 

 

Detroit also leads the nation in auto insurance rates, with the average driver shelling out $5,941 a year for auto insurance, compared to the average $1,022 bill that North Carolinians pay.

Amazingly and incredibly, Robertson has never missed a day of work because of his commuting challenges.

As news of Robertson’s extraordinary commute has spread across the country, thousands have donated more than $140,000 to help him while sparking conversations about holes in public transportation system.

From the original Detroit Free Press article:

Leaving home in Detroit at 8 a.m., James Robertson doesn’t look like an endurance athlete.

Pudgy of form, shod in heavy work boots, Robertson trudges almost haltingly as he starts another workday.

But as he steps out into the cold, Robertson, 56, is steeled for an Olympic-sized commute. Getting to and from his factory job 23 miles away in Rochester Hills, he’ll take a bus partway there and partway home. And he’ll also walk an astounding 21 miles.

Five days a week. Monday through Friday.

It’s the life Robertson has led for the last decade, ever since his 1988 Honda Accord quit on him.

Every trip is an ordeal of mental and physical toughness for this soft-spoken man with a perfect attendance record at work. And every day is a tribute to how much he cares about his job, his boss and his coworkers. Robertson’s daunting walks and bus rides, in all kinds of weather, also reflect the challenges some metro Detroiters face in getting to work in a region of limited bus service, and where car ownership is priced beyond the reach of many.

You can read the entire article here.

Here in North Carolina, 67 percent of those who use public transportation have incomes lower than $25,000, according to this 2012 report from Tazra Mitchell of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center. Eleven percent of North Carolina’s low-income workers also use buses and other forms of public transportation to get to work.

That means the working poor depend heavily on the state’s lean system of public transportation, and the needs of low-income residents need to be at the forefront of talks about expanding bus and transit systems, Mitchell writes.

“The success of new and expanded transit in North Carolina will largely depend on how well the transit system retains and reaches its most reliable customers: low-income North Carolinians,” she writes. “This requires developing transit plans with an eye to where low-income people live and where the opportunities for economic and social participation exist.”

Wake County is surveying the public right now to hear about what goals people have in future public transportation plans. You can take that survey here.

 

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