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Survey finds 60 percent of Mass. biotech workers would change job to get a better commute

Traffic backed up on the Southeast Expressway.Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

Massachusetts’ thriving biotech industry may be the envy of much of the world, but its employees are fed up with their commutes.

That’s the gist of a survey of 2,133 life sciences employees that found 60 percent would change jobs for a better commute, even though most of their employers pick up some or all of their transportation costs.

Nearly a quarter of the participants in the online poll by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a trade group, said they have considered moving to another state because of their commutes.

And many of those journeys to work are long. The largest segment of respondents — almost 27 percent — said it typically takes 61 to 90 minutes to get to and from work, door to door. Nearly 12 percent said it takes more than 90 minutes each way.


“Transportation is the first topic out of everybody’s mouth, no matter where you go,” said Robert Coughlin, the chief executive of MassBio. “My immediate takeaway was how upset we really are about this.”

To an extent, the frustration is all too predictable. Two-thirds of the respondents in the survey, released Wednesday, work in Cambridge, and most of those work in Kendall Square — ground zero for the state’s biotech industry.

The June 11 derailment in Dorchester on the MBTA’s Red Line wreaked havoc on commuters going to Cambridge, and the survey was conducted July 9-21.

With that mishap fresh in their minds, 70 percent of the survey participants who use public transportation said their commutes were worse than a year earlier. Ninety percent reported becoming “stressed, angry, or frustrated” in the prior month because of delays on mass transit, and nearly 79 percent reported being late for work.

Still, employees in Massachusetts’ booming biotech industry have it good, compared with other workers — at least when it comes to transportation costs.


Almost 92 percent of respondents said their employers pay for all or part of their public transit costs. And more than 61 percent said their employers pay for all or part of their work-related parking expenses.

The state’s biopharma workforce has grown by more than a third in the past 10 years to more than 74,000 employees. Employers often provide generous wages and perks to attract and retain skilled workers.

Yet employees are disgusted with their commutes. When MassBio did its last transportation survey, in 2016, only 29 percent of workers said they would consider switching jobs for a better commute, less than half of the latest figure.

“MassBio’s survey confirms what we’ve heard from employees across Kendall Square and across the Commonwealth: We are facing a transportation crisis, and enough is enough,” said C.A. Webb, president of the Kendall Square Association, a business group.

The association wrote to Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Karen Spilka shortly after the Red Line derailment, declaring that it “is time to raise revenue for transportation and end this crisis.”

On Tuesday, spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is “working around the clock” to make more than $8 billion in improvements. The effort includes 404 new subway cars on the Red and Orange lines.

Some 82 percent of the survey respondents said state government wasn’t doing enough, however. Nearly two-thirds said they would be likely or very likely to support higher taxes or fees to fix the state’s transportation systems.


Among the remedies mentioned in the survey were “congestion pricing” — highway tolls that vary depending on time of day to lessen rush-hour traffic — and an increase in the gasoline tax.

Jim Rooney, CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said that Kendall Square, the Longwood Medical Area, and the Seaport District are “choking” with car traffic, and something needs to be done to alleviate it.

The US Chamber of Commerce has expressed support for a 25-cent increase in the federal gasoline tax to fund improvements to roads, bridges, and transit systems.

Despite the heavy traffic, the car remains the primary way commuters get to work, according to the survey. More than 44 percent of the respondents said they drove alone, while the next most popular way was to take a subway or a bus, at 26 percent.

For all of the biotech and high-tech jobs in Massachusetts, the state lags behind other states in terms of telecommuting, according to the survey.

Some 74 percent of participants said they can work from home at least occasionally. But only 4.7 percent of the workforce telecommutes full time, lower than in 19 other states, according to a report by FlexJobs, a job-search site.

In light of that finding, Coughlin, of MassBio, sent a letter Monday to 1,100 chief executives of life sciences companies. MassBio, he wrote, recently began allowing its 35 employees to work from home one day a week and to work flexible hours to avoid rush hour. Coughlin urged other employers to do the same.


Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.