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For some Petaluma commuters, getting to work is work

At about 7 a.m. every Wednesday, as many of his Petaluma midtown neighbors untangle themselves from bed sheets and start their coffee makers, David Gómez-Rosado is nearly 2 hours into his commute.

He’s about halfway to work.

Soon, the Golden Gate Transit 74 bus, which left Petaluma at 5:46 a.m., will drop him off at the Caltrain station in San Francisco. He’ll grab breakfast before catching a 7:45 a.m. train for the next leg of his weekly journey to his job at a software company in Sunnyvale. After work, he’ll stay at an Airbnb nearby then embark on a 4-hour slog back home to Petaluma each Friday evening.

“I have had long, 2-plus hour-long commutes for decades now, but this one tops it all,” Gómez-Rosado said.

It’s an extreme trek by his own admission, yet it’s just one of many grueling commutes hundreds of Petalumans endure each workweek, some using as many as four different transportation methods that takes them across multiple county lines.

Expanded schedule

SMART unveiled its long-awaited extension to Larkspur Dec. 13, providing North Bay commuters the option of taking the Golden Gate Transit ferry into San Francisco. The unveiling coincided with an expanded train schedule on weekdays meant to appeal to commuters, with smaller wait times in between trains.

Yet dozens of Golden Gate Transit bus riders said the journey down Highway 101 remains the quickest and cheapest option for them. The additional connection to the ferry, along with the walk from the SMART terminus, adds precious time to an already lengthy journey.

“For many jobs in San Francisco it’s easier to just get on the 101 bus,” said Transit Advisory Committee Member Dave Alden. “I wish it wasn’t that way, but the reality is, we have what we have with SMART and for right now that is what it is.”

Super commuters

The number of those who super commute - spending more than 90 minutes traveling each way - has been increasing in recent years. That’s according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census data by renter platform Apartment List, who found a 32 % increase from 2005 to 2017. Roughly 8,150 Sonoma County residents brave long-haul commutes, often for well-paying jobs unavailable closer to home.

For Gómez-Rosado and several other long-distance commuters, moving closer to the San Francisco area where they work isn’t a viable option.

San Francisco’s exorbitant cost of living is nothing new, and a 2019 report by financial news site 24/7 Wall Street named it the most expensive metropolitan area in the country. The report found a family of four would need to earn more than $11,000 a month to meet adequate standards of living in the San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley area, compared to $9,165 in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma region. Gómez-Rosado and his partner have four kids.

Along with prohibitive costs, many professionals with families said they don’t want to leave what they see as a tight-knit, safe, family-friendly community.

By car, bus, rail

Robin Bisgaard has been commuting to San Francisco by car for 27 years, ever since she moved to Petaluma in 1993.

“The housing industry was the biggest motivator for us. We couldn’t afford to buy a house in San Francisco at that time in an area we wanted,” Bisgaard said. “We also wanted to find a community to raise a family and Petaluma is great for that.”

A doctoral student and nurse, Bisgaard commutes two to three days a week for shifts at the UC San Francisco Medical Center at Mission Bay and three days a week for classes.

For the slew of commuters whose lives are rooted in Petaluma and whose careers tie them to the San Francisco area, a protracted journey to and from work is unavoidable. Bisgaard said her schedule prevents her from using public transportation, and said she’s fortunate to have a straight-forward, door-to-door trip to work in San Francisco.

For others, like Petaluma resident Julia Marshall, going to work involves a carefully-timed patchwork of two or more methods of transportation.

To reach her job as a teacher in the East Bay each weekday, Marshall jumps from the SMART train to a Golden Gate Transit bus to an Alameda-Contra Consta Transit bus. Despite the hours spent on bus and train, Marshall said it’s the best option for her to get to work, as she loves her job too much to transfer and is not interested in moving to the East Bay.

She said she chooses to ride SMART over taking the Golden Gate Transit bus for the scenery and the ability to get work done using the train’s tables.

Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz with Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District estimates about 250 people from Petaluma commute southbound via bus each day via Golden Gate Transit buses. A large section of those commuters go to the Financial District, and have been enduring the trip for years, and some for decades.

“There’s definitely an imbalance of where the jobs are and where there’s affordable cost of living,” Gómez-Rosado said. “Although I think my commute is more extreme, I do think it’s a sign of times and that folks are going to have longer and longer commutes.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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