— Simon Nakhale remembers the night his 20-year-old
son, Leo, walked nearly three hours because he had
missed the last bus home.
no money for a cab ride, no family car or friends
available to pick him up, Leo followed the map on his
smartphone to their home outside Seattle.
my God, we felt so bad," Nakhale recalls of that
late night. "We kept calling him until he got so
exhausted, he couldn’t answer."
incident became one of the reasons the family, which had
emigrated from Nairobi, Kenya, at the end of 2013,
bought a used car for Nakhale earlier this year and is
leasing one for his wife, Gladys Shivambo.
they spend about a third of their income on
transportation — and his commute to two jobs consumes
plenty of time as well.
about a year, Nakhale, 50, Shivambo, 45, and their four
children had relied on the bus to get from their home
near Renton, about 10 miles south of downtown Seattle,
to their jobs, schools and other places.
bus, it had taken Nakhale nearly four hours a day to get
to and from his job as a bank security guard in Seattle.
More recently, when he got a second job as a Federal
Express package handler in Auburn, about 12 miles south
of Renton, he began driving so he could get between jobs
even driving, the commute is a slog, taking up about
three hours each day.
long commute, plus the jobs, have "taken away what
little time I have with my family," Nakhale says.
"The children only see me for one hour, and that’s
the time I am eating. I don’t find time to be a
costs and commute times have become an important factor
in how income inequality plays out around the Puget
Sound region, as those priced out of living close to job
centers pay, instead, with their time.
to work — an endurance sport even for people who drive
and work traditional hours — become even more of a
hardship for those working odd hours who rely on public
transportation, or those cobbling together several jobs.
the effects spill over to commuters’ families.
families typically pay a higher percentage of their
incomes to commute than their higher-paid counterparts.
And commutes use up time that could otherwise be spent
with family or on other pursuits.
a further concern that commuting can be stressful —
and "stress is related to less beneficial parenting
practices," said Heather Hill, an associate
professor at the University of Washington’s Evans
School of Public Policy and Governance who studies how
children and families are affected by poverty.
such commute complications are a reality facing more
people as soaring housing costs push people out of the
urban core and farther away from jobs.
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
as the number of people living in south King County, the
home of Seattle, has swelled, the average number of jobs
within a typical commute distance for people living
there has declined about 2 percent from 2000 to 2013,
according to recent findings from the Brookings
Institution. Many of south King County’s census tracts
had even more severe declines of about 6 to 8 percent.
(In contrast, the average number of nearby jobs went up
nearly 6 percent in the Seattle area and 9 percent on
the Eastside, a collection of near suburbs.)
the Fairwood area where Nakhale and his family live, the
number of jobs within a typical commute distance —
which Brookings puts at 9.5 miles for the Seattle area
— declined nearly 6 percent during those years.
of the "livable wage jobs, if they are even
livable, are clearly not in south King County,"
said Mike Heinisch, longtime executive director of Kent
Youth and Family Services. "They’re in Seattle.
And with the minimum-wage law in Seattle, that’s
probably more of a magnet in people’s minds to get a
difficulty, Heinisch said, is that people living at or
below the median poverty level often work odd hours, for
instance starting at 4 or 5 a.m. changing linens at a
hotel, or working late into the night at a restaurant.
Or workers might not find out the hours they’re
working that week until shortly before they’re
supposed to start.
that conspires to make it more difficult" for
low-income workers in south King County who rely on
public transportation, said Heinisch, who’s heard
stories over the years about people losing or having to
change jobs when a bus route changes.
for low-income workers who drive, the cars they own
might be older and more likely to need repairs and
maintenance, Heinisch said. Or, if they don’t have
enough for a down payment on a newer car or lack a good
credit score, they may end up leasing or agreeing to a
loan that ends up being costlier than the norm.
expensive to be poor," Heinisch said.
LEAF FROM NAIROBI’
cost of commuting has been weighing on Nakhale’s mind
a lot these days.
tall man with a beaming smile and a regal bearing who
was a former soldier and trombone player with the Kenyan
Army Band, Nakhale remembers how, in Nairobi, public
transportation was available 24 hours a day, from buses
to minibuses, vans to taxis.
Seattle area "needs to borrow a leaf from
Nairobi," he says with a laugh.
long commute was already bothering him back when he was
taking a bus to his $11.50-an-hour job as a security
guard in downtown Seattle and the city’s West Seattle
days, he would spend up to four hours commuting. On
Fridays, when he would have to transfer between three
buses in the evening, with long waits in between each
leg, he could spend some five hours commuting.
the bus rides gave him time to use his tablet to tap out
his life story — something he wants to preserve and
pass down to his children — it also ate up time he
could be spending with his wife and children, ages 10 to
even though he’s driving, between his commute and
jobs, he barely has time to catch a glimpse of his
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
workdays begin at night.
most days, he gets up at 1:40 a.m., leaving the house by
2:25 a.m. to drive his 2004 Honda Pilot 25 minutes to a
FedEx facility in Auburn, where he earns $12.50 an hour.
(On some days, when his shift starts an hour earlier, he
wakes at 12:40 a.m.)
his shift ends at 6:40 a.m., he drives home for a quick
freshening-up. Then, at 7:30 a.m., a neighbor usually
comes over and they drive together for about 55 minutes
to downtown Seattle. (A new driver, Nakhale prefers that
his neighbor drives his car on this leg of the commute.
If Nakhale is working in West Seattle that day, he drops
his neighbor off in downtown Seattle and proceeds to
West Seattle himself — about a 20-minute drive.)
not until 5 p.m. on most days that his shift at the bank
ends, he meets his neighbor (driving to downtown to do
so if he’s been working in West Seattle), and they
make the drive home. Once home, at about 6:25 p.m. or
6:45 p.m., depending on the day, Nakhale eats a quick
meal and heads to bed by 7:30 p.m. so he can repeat the
cycle the next day.
I found jobs closer to home, it would save me an hour a
day of driving, at least. I’ve missed so many
things," said Nakhale, who felt most sad recently
about missing a concert in which his 13-year-old son,
Clive, played trumpet with his school band. "The
father-child thing — I don’t have that now."
up to Nakhale’s wife, Shivambo, to attend most of the
children’s activities and school meetings —
something that she quickly realized she would need a car
for, because public transit didn’t go to her kids’
schools at the times she needed.
including shopping for food and supplies for their
family of six, were also tough to do by bus.
the family had only one car, and Nakhale drives it to
work, "how can I run errands?" said Shivambo,
who was an elementary school teacher back in Nairobi.
in March, the family started paying $447 a month for
Shivambo to lease a new Toyota Scion — a relatively
high price because of the family’s lack of credit
history, Nakhale said.
found the cars invaluable for everything from simply
finding jobs — Nakhale missed a job interview once
because his bus arrived late — to making sure their
kids can make it to after-school activities. Their son,
Clive, once missed playing in a required school concert
because they didn’t have cars at the time and the bus
wasn’t running to the school at that hour.
now, to afford two cars, they’re going to have to pay
with even more of their time.
had been relatively lucky, finding within walking
distance of home a $13-an-hour job at a local day-care
center, where she now works full time starting at 6 a.m.
paycheck goes toward her car costs, food and a portion
of the rent. Her husband’s paycheck goes toward the
rest of the rent, utilities, his and Leo’s
transportation costs, and money owed to help pay for
their move to the U.S.
still, it’s not enough. Shivambo is now looking for a