should I disclose my transportation issues when I’m interviewing?

by Ask a Manager on January 8, 2013

A reader writes:

I have a few things working against me as I start my job search, and your blog has been such a help with navigating those issues. One that you haven’t covered is transportation.

Through no fault of my own, I don’t have a car or driver’s license. Besides avoiding jobs that explicitly require these, how should I handle the situation? I am temporarily staying with a friend while I seek a job and apartment. He lives on the interstate (meaning public transportation is very limited and I can’t safely go on foot), so I am applying to jobs in the nearest city. Consequently, I am uncertain if I would need special accommodation, like only working shifts that match the bus schedule, because I don’t know how far my future residence would be from my future job. Depending on if someone could give me a ride, I used to walk between 5.5 and 1.5 miles a day at a previous job (in Buffalo, NY during winter, no less), so I know I’m reliable.

Would it be a disingenuous to treat my transportation as none of my employer’s concern, or should I bring it up? If I should mention it, do I bring it up in the cover letter or wait for an interview?

Definitely don’t bring it up in your cover letter — the cover letter is to explain how you’d be a great match with the job, and you don’t want to raise concerns there that might end up not even being concerns.

And you don’t need to raise it in the interview either, if your interviewer doesn’t raise it herself. Assume that your transportation is strictly your business unless you’re asked about it.

If you are asked about it, you want it to sound like as much of a non-issue as you can honestly make it. Employers definitely don’t want to hear about the details of your transportation situation — if they ask, they want to hear “yes, transportation is no problem” or “no, I don’t have reliable transportation.” (Well, they don’t want to hear the latter, but they’d rather hear it up-front than find out after they’ve hired you.)

Now, if you know that you’d need to only work shifts that match a bus schedule, and if those shifts are likely to be significantly different from what everyone else works, then yes, mention it if you’re asked — because you’re going to have to say it at some point if you get the job, and you don’t want to look like you misrepresented things earlier. And if you’re not asked, wait until you get a job offer, and bring it up at that point.

But if you’re going to be able to get to the job on the same schedule as everyone else, and you’re going to be able to do it reliably, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business how you achieve that. Busses and feet are just as reliable as cars, after all. When someone is unreliable, it’s usually because of their own behavior (sleeping in and missing the bus) or because their plan was never a reliable one to begin with (like counting on a neighbor for a ride).

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{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

Parfait January 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

If the bus schedule affects what hours you are available for work, tell them that those are the hours you are available for work. But I wouldn’t tell them that the bus is why, and I wouldn’t even bring it up otherwise.

I remember in my impoverished, carless youth, applying at a fast food place two blocks from my apartment – and they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have a car. I was like, “What? You are two blocks from me.” They said, “Well our other location isn’t.” I said, “There is reliable bus service from here to there!” But they wouldn’t hear of it.

“Yes, I have reliable transportation.” The end.

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FormerManager January 8, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Reminds me of my first job….I didn’t drive and my parents would drop me off and pick me up. But when they asked if I had a car before I was hired, I said “yes.”

Of course, said car was an undrivable 1970s Buick Regal that had never been driven for years and sat unused in the driveway. (My dementia suffering grandmother “gave” it to me after my parents had it towed to their place after she moved in to a home–we sort of pretended to her I would use it though it would have needed a miracle to run).

Later, on my last day, the owner of the shop brought up the fact that he’d never realized until now that I didn’t drive to work. And I answered, smiling, “yup, I was never late once.”

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Job seeker January 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I sympathize with this poster. I remember when I was younger and did not yet have a car. The job I held was at a engineering firm and in the suburbs. I had a ride to and from work with my mom until my dad got sick and was in the hospital. I had to get public transportation for a month until he passed away. I remember how hard that was. I would have to leave for work one hour and half before I had to be there in the morning. I had to travel downtown to get a bus to drive me back into the suburbs. My dad was dying of cancer so when I got off work, I took another bus back downtown to the hospital. I stayed there with my mom as long I could and take the last bus back to the suburbs to go home. I hope this poster can work this out. Being without transportation was hard.

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FormerManager January 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm

The ‘burbs suck when it comes to transit.

I’m lucky in that I’m outside a metropolitan city that has decent transit and my ‘burb has one of the better bus systems. It makes me feel bad when I talk to my cousin–she had to leave the city she was living in and move back with her parents because she suddenly developed seizures and couldn’t drive. Thus, she couldn’t get to her job and had to go on disability.

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Job seeker January 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I think my experience made me realize how fortunate I am now. I would hate to have to count on public transportation for work. I realize how much easier it is for me to just go out into the garage and start the car and go. My husband bought me a new car last year and has always provided things good for me since our marriage. I still want to always never take anything for granted.

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mh_76 January 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

You should, however, disclose your transportation issue if you’re working with recruiters/agencies so that they can at least attempt to be mindful when they hopefully find positions that might be of interest to you that you can physically get to on foot or via transit. Having said that, you will have to kindly remind them often because…the last 4 recruiter-leads that came my way were for jobs that I wouldn’t be able to get to without a car…

I have my own transportation issue* front and center on my online profiles (LI, indeed, monster) because part of the reason that I live in a large city is so that I don’t have to spend half of my day in the car. I like driving and would be OK with a moderate reverse-commute (I don’t tell a lot of people that) but I shouldn’t have to do that. I’ve opted to be very up-front because I don’t want to get into a situation where I have an interview offered in the far-away suburbs but have absolutely no way of getting there and don’t have enough notice to rent a car without getting ripped off (then, if I got an offer, I’d have to look into getting a car on short-notice too…not out of the question but I’d probably get ripped off…or have to turn down the offer if it’s too far away).
*(I have a DL but don’t own a car & live in a city with transit…it’s not always reliable but it’s nearby)

It sounds like you’re willing to relocate once you get the job (I’m not…at least not specifically for a job), so maybe try to focus your search on companies that you know are transit-accessible even if that does mean you have to move to make it possible and tell any recruiters that you require public-transit access.

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kristinyc January 8, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I had a recruiter try to get me to take a job that was a few miles into New Jersey (I live in Queens). She actually said, “I looked at a google map, and it’s only 15 miles from where you live!” She lived on the other side of the country and had no idea what should be considered a reasonable commute in NYC.
Yeah, 15 miles – but 3 hours on public transit. No thanks!

(As it is, it takes me an hour to get into Soho…)

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BW January 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Out of state recruiters have no clue about the logistics. 15 miles in the city driving or on public transit may as well be in another state for the time it takes to get there. It’s not like 15 miles on open road. I would get that kind of thing all the time when job hunting. They’d also drive me nuts by saying a position was located in the city, but when I’d ask for details, I’d find out it wasn’t anywhere near the city, and then they would try to convince me it really would be that bad because it was a “reverse commute”. Um..first I have to get out of the city. Secondly, there is no reverse commute between the city and the tech belt. People are commuting to the city to work, and just as many people are commuting to the outter-ring tech belt to work, except they are all driving and clogging up the roads, because there’s little or no public transit out there. *headdesk*

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Blinx January 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I can’t tell you how many ads I’ve seen listed for Philadelphia, that when you click on them and read the details, are actually in central or south Jersey. Um, Philadelphia’s in another state altogether!! [Job Hunting Pet Peeve No. 38]

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K. January 8, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Yeah, the “greater Philadelphia area” is tricky because it encompasses so much. Philly and the surrounding suburbs in PA as well as south Jersey, central Jersey, Delaware … I’ve known a few people who live in Philly and work in Wilmington.

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Zed January 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Some of Jersey is perfectly accessible by public transportation – the regional rail to Trenton, the PATCO to Lindenwold, and various connecting bus, rail, and light rail lines… but then of course there’s the rest of the state.

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AdAgencyChick January 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm

If I had a dollar for every New Jersey recruiter who thinks my ass is coming out there from Brooklyn…

Which is to say, I feel your pain!

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Depending on where you were in Brooklyn, commuting to a place like Hoboken or Jersey City wouldn’t necessarily be a bad.

For NYC area jobs with out of state recruiters–if they used Google maps to maps from the job to the candidate, they can easily select the option for transit to see how the candidate would get there from point A to point B. A reasonable option, considering it’s just a click.

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Anonymous January 8, 2013 at 3:40 pm

This is somewhat off-topic but slightly related to what you posted: Has having a profile on Indeed gotten you any results? I ask because I use the site every day, but after having my e-mail address spammed heavily a few years ago because of my Monster account, I am wary to post a profile on any job sites.

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Sydney January 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I do hiring for my company and we used Indeed on this last round. We also put out ads on Craigslist and with the Texas Workforce Commission and local universities. We didn’t do any other paid job sites, and the only reason we used Indeed this time was because they gave me a $50 credit to use. I only used the $50 credit and it got me a huge number of applicants, most of them way better than any other source.

So next round, I will be paying Indeed for their services.

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Liz in the City January 10, 2013 at 11:50 am

I got hired at my current job via Indeed (I didn’t even need to submit a cover letter–bonus!) My company did a search for certain skills that I had listed in my resume, then contacted me via email. So, I’d recommend being on there.

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mh_76 January 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

kristinyc, another reason that I won’t talk to recruiters outside of my immediate metro-area.

anonymous, not really but I’ve been contacted twice. Replied to one, never heard back. Forgot to reply to the other…oops…but I just looked at that email again and the body of it seems canned, like the person didn’t read my profile at all (get a lot of those from monster). “Based on your reputation and in Sales Operations”… um, I’ve never worked in Sales Ops and don’t think that it’s an area of interest.

I haven’t had a lot of spam from either but I also use a separate email address for them and gmail is pretty good at catching spam (though I check sometimes, in case something legit winds up there).

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mh_76 January 8, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Got an email today from a local recruiter about a too-far-away position (same state, too far away) and replied “Thank you for emailing! I am very interested in Project Coordinator positions but [location] is too far away – I live fewer than 10 blocks from your office. I would love to speak to you, though, about similar opportunities that are closer to, preferrably in, [metro area]. Feel free to look at my LinkedIn profile and I hope to hear back from you.” Didn’t tell her that I’m already in for that position through another recruiter (can rent a car for the interview if one’s offered) but know that it’s the same job because the job description is exactly the same, verbatim, right down to the lingo. I probably won’t hear back but that’s OK, their loss!!

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PEBCAK January 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

It sounds like the OP doesn’t even know if she will need to work special hours, because she doesn’t know where she’ll be living once she gets a job. I think the only option here is to act like you will be just fine, and then do your damndest to find a living situation that makes that true.

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KarenT January 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Maybe others will disagree, but I think it’s fine in an interview to ask what the working hours will be. They might say everyone here works 9-5, or that they have flex time (at my company, for example, everyone has to work 8 hours a day and be in the office from 9-3, so you could work 7-3, 8-4, 9-5, etc.). That may help you determine how feasible a job is for you before you get to the offer stage.

Good luck!

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KellyK January 8, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I think that’s a perfectly reasonable question, and the LW wouldn’t need to bring up their lack of a car to ask it. Car or no car, most people want to know both what their hours would be and how much “wiggle room” there is for those hours.

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COT January 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Agreed. The OP needs a workplace where it’s there’s a bit of wiggle room for transit issues. She might need to leave at 4:50 to catch the bus on time, or perhaps her morning bus is late due to weather, etc.

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Chocolate Teapot January 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I once applied for a job through a recruiter, and never got as far as the interview since I don’t drive. Mind you, it was one of those recruiters who prefers not to give any information (like what sort of company) if they can.

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mh_76 January 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I’ve discovered that, if the recruiter sends you a canned job description, you can often Google that and find the company or find another listing that provides more info. Or you can say that you’re being put in for a lot of jobs by other recruiters (some will press for more info, not their biz) and would like to make sure that you’re not already in for the position. A remotely decent recruiter will at least ask his/her boss is s/he can tell you what company and a decent one will tell you anyway. With recruiters, you can also specify that you require public-transit access (many even have a check-box/field on their application forms to that effect).

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Lynn January 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

That’s weird. Every time I’ve talked to a recruiter, the first thing they tell me is the company name. Because OF COURSE you need to think about whether it is a reasonable commute. There are other considerations too, like you don’t want to apply for a job at your current company, you might have preferences about big company vs small company. How do they recruit anyone without revealing the company name?

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mh_76 January 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Every time I’ve talked to a recruiter, the first thing they tell me is the company name.
That varies, depending on the recruiter, and even varies from person to person at the same agency. Some will tell, some need to be cajoled, some won’t come hell or high water.

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KellyK January 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I definitely agree that it’s something to wait to bring up until you’re asked or until the job offer stage. It’d probably be a good idea to ask general questions about the hours, the expectations of overtime and how frequently schedule changes may come up, etc., so you can make sure your commute will be feasible, and so you have a better idea what questions to ask at the offer stage if you do need to bring it up. For example, if you’ll routinely be asked to stay late with no notice, you’ll want to make sure the bus schedule accommodates that.

I would add that if you end up planning to use public transit, verify for yourself that it is actually reliable before you answer “yes” to “Do you have reliable transportation?” Some systems are really good, and some are…really not.

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Jennifer January 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm

As a person without a car (and without a DL for most of my life), I only apply at places I can get to, period. I’ve so far been lucky in that I’ve been able to get jobs within walking distance of my home, but if I got a job in another town, I’d have problems since the county bus line is not so reliable–plus odds are high I’d still have to have a car/get a ride to the location I need to go to from the bus stop. Fun times. And don’t get me started on how hard it is to find rides.

I’m wondering if the OP is applying for jobs that require shift work like retail or food service. I haven’t had an issue because I have only worked 7-4 or 8-5 jobs on a regular basis (plus I have so far managed to live within a half hour’s walk of my jobs so I could cover the one night shift I had to do with no public transport help), but I strongly suspect it’ll be a problem depending on what hours they want you to work and if they change from week to week. Usually you’ll be able to get to daytime jobs on the bus, but depending on your location, night and weekend busses are more limited to nonexistent.

You need to memorize what your public transport options are before the interview so that you know what you can and cannot do, timewise. In the interview, I would ask what hours I would be expected to work on a regular basis if they don’t tell you this right off. If they’re during the day, then you don’t need to say a thing. But if they say that you might have to work the midnight to 8 a.m. shift* off and on and you know public transport won’t cover that, then you’ll need to say something. However, if you’re applying at food service/retail, from what I’ve heard folks will not be sympathetic to your lack of availability, so you may not get that job. Sorry to say that.

* A friend of mine who doesn’t drive ended up in this kind of situation except her time was even worse, getting off work at 3 a.m.–plus to get there she was taking the bus into another town. She had a 3 hour wait between getting off work and when the next bus came, and ended up quitting after a day because it was just too heinous.

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Elizabeth West January 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm

You need to memorize what your public transport options are before the interview so that you know what you can and cannot do, timewise.

Yes, this. You really need to know how long it takes you to get around. It can vary, and as other posters have pointed out, transit systems are wildly different in efficiency (and route coverage) in different places.

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Kay January 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I work helping visually impaired individuals find employment and this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when approaching employers. In general if an employer asks if my clients have reliable transportation I tell them to simply say “yes” and leave it at that. I think if you start going into a long explanation about the various methods you may use to get to work, the employer will get more anxious.

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km January 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Depending on the size of the city where you’re looking for employment, you taking the bus to work may not be that out of the ordinary for your employer. I work in Boston and of my 60 co-workers, I think 59 of them take public transportation to work. There was a day last year when we were trying to recruit staff volunteers to help set-up for a fundraiser at 5AM and it was understood that this would be impossible because that’s before the train starts running.

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tangoecho5 January 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Likewise if you work for a big enough company, they might have dedicated van pools &/or drivers or an agreement to help pay for the cost of taking advantage of those options. I lived an hours plus drive away from my job. While I had a car and would drive myself to work occasionally, I also joined the van pool as a rider and paid a monthly fee with the cost also partially paid by my employer. It was so stress free to let someone else do the driving and no wear or tear on my car. It was certainly more cost efficient than buying gas for my car. A fellow company employee did the driving of the Metro owned Van and he’d stop two or three places, pick up other employees who worked at our location and we’d then all carpool to work. Now I had to get from my home to one of the convenient locations for pick up but it wasn’t far and usually the driver was willing to work with a person if it didn’t put the Van pool too far out of schedule or location.

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 7:36 am

If the OP is still in Buffalo, NY, public transportation is sketchy. There is a bus system, but it is nothing like what it is in major cities. Many jobs are located in the ‘burbs and the bus schedule gets worse once you leave the city limits. It can be done and more power to the OP for doing it in the past, but it is not the norm.

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Jay January 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

What about careers that require you to travel a fraction of the time as part of the job (sales, underwriting)? Getting to the building wouldn’t be as much of a problem. If I can’t drive is it even worth applying to those companies? There is a company I’m interested in that says I would be traveling around 30% of the time.

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Ask a Manager January 8, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Companies generally pay for travel costs, so I’d assume they’d handle a rental car or plane or whatever your travel would be based on.

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fposte January 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

He’d still be expected to drive the rental car, though, wouldn’t he?

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Ask a Manager January 8, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Whoops — I interpreted “I can’t drive” as “I don’t have a car,” but should not have! In that case, I agree with the below — ask if the job requires a driver’s license!

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BW January 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm

That’s what I was thinking as well, although in my case, the travel did not require the employee to drive. The company would pay for taxi service to and from the airport and to and from the remote work site.

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fposte January 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I have an old-timey small-town brain–I was thinking of salesfolk driving around their regional territories in their shiny cars. That’s probably not so much the norm these days!

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fposte January 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Can you inquire if the job requires a driver’s license? You might get an informative answer. If the territory is largely in a metropolitan area, public transit might work fine.

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BW January 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm

The company will generally pay your costs and provide you with needed transportation, especially if it’s long distance. I used to travel a lot. Plane tickets were paid out directly, and I got reimbursed for any public transit, cabs, driving in my car, or driving in a rental that I did.

This is something you definitely want to bring up when interviewing for any position where travel is required, not just to find out if you need your own car, but to find out how much, if any, money you will be expected to pay out of pocket or pay up front and then get reimbursed for. Some companies will give employees corporate cards to pay for business travel related expenses. In other cases, you might have to pay out of pocket and then submit a reimbursement request which can then take weeks before you get your money back.

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Sabrina January 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm

My father in law doesn’t drive due to a medical condition. It’s a giant PITA to find him a job along a bus line because the transit in this town isn’t the greatest.

I wouldn’t mention it at all though. How you get to work is your business, though you could always enquire about mass transit incentives.

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ChristineH January 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Well….I now see where I’ve been going wrong. I cannot drive due to a vision impairment; due to an embarrassing interview experience, I always ask up front if driving is involved in the job (as Jay above asks about as well), usually either before accepting an interview or at the interview itself. D’oh!!

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fposte January 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I think driving as part of the job does need to be treated differently than driving *to* the job, though. When you’re traveling on the employer’s dime it’s a whole different matter. I don’t have a simple answer for that situation, but I do think it’s important to remember, as Juni notes, that this is an ADA-relevant issue and that for many positions it can be accommodated. It might make more sense to ask about the travel, note that you have an ADA-relevant visual disability that prevents you from driving, and explain the alternatives. While not every job can accommodate a lack of driving, I think it’s better to make it a discussion than an open “I don’t have this” announcement. (Unless the requirement was in the job description, of course.)

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Juni January 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

OP: In case you don’t have a driver’s license because you have a disability (invisible or not) that precludes you from eligibility for one, it’s okay to apply to jobs and let them know on the application form that you have a disability that precludes you from driving but will not interfere with your other work. The ADA requires an employer to offer you reasonable accommodation. If you’re a database administrator who, twice a year, needs to attend a Gala in another part of the city or state, that’s easily accommodated.

I’ve done this and employers have been very receptive to it. I’ve rarely needed to actually DRIVE somewhere… just needed to BE somewhere. Taxis, carpools, and public trans have all subbed in before, and being able to say that your workplace is inclusive in hiring people with disabilities is very valuable to employers!

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Hello Vino January 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I’ve been in a similar situation when I was living in San Francisco. The issue of transportation only came up after they made me an offer. I lived in SF, while the office was about a 30-minute ride away. I rode the train and bus to work everyday. The bus, unfortunately, only came once an hour. I stuck to a strict schedule and gave myself extra time in the mornings. If a sudden delay came up, I made sure to let my manager know ASAP.

My manager was very understanding of the whole transportation situation. On the rare occasion when I had to work late, he would drop me off at the train station as the area the bus stop was in was considered pretty sketchy at night. There were some people in the office had an issue with me sticking to a routine due to the bus schedule though. It was never brought up by my manager or HR, just gossip around the office.

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Editor January 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm

In my county, there’s a van transportation system open to people who are disabled and elderly, but the cost per trip is fairly high. I know it transports some students regularly, but I don’t know if it provides transportation to work.

Even in the suburbs, sometimes it is possible to live within walking or biking distance of a job. Older suburbs seem to work better for this — the houses aren’t as far from commercial strips or manufacturing. Most employers are more likely to stay in a facility that’s owned rather than leased, although that’s no guarantee that the job will continue to be at the same site in the same building for decades.

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Main Street Maven January 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm

OP: What, you couldn’t just TAKE THE SUBWAY in Buffalo? Ha ha ha ha ha. (Only funny if you’ve lived in Buffalo–and even then, not really a knee-slapper.)

Seriously, I wouldn’t bring it up until at least the interview, and be sure and ask some questions in the interview about work hours, flexibility, etc. It really shouldn’t be a big deal, if the company is accessible by public transportation. Hey, maybe you could find a company with an environmental focus, and spin your transportation method as a positive (which it actually is, environmentally speaking).

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Katie the Fed January 8, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I was interviewing potential candidates and we closed with the softball question of “Why do you want this job” and I swear that one candidate said “well, I’m moving in with my boyfriend and my commute will be a whole lot easier.”

This is an EASY question. Make something up at the very least. You want the challenge, you want the development, you have a strong interest in ABC, whatever! Your commute is not my concern.

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Cassie January 8, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Would a shorter commute be an okay answer if asked why you are looking for a job? I wouldn’t say that a shorter commute is why I want *this* job, but that it was one of my reasons for leaving my current job (if that were the case) – would that be okay to say?

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Katie the Fed January 9, 2013 at 12:10 am

Personally, I’d avoid it altogether. It’s not an egregious sin to mention it but from my perspective if I’m hiring, I’m concerned about what you bring to the job, not what the job can do for you (shorten your commute), ya know?

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 7:49 am

I agree with this – I’d avoid it too.

Just focus on why you want that job because personal factors (which are totally valid and we all have them) tend to come off as self-serving.

Unless the personal factor is something they stress and are proud of – then it can work for you. I.e. for me a deal breaker was off-street parking – I needed a parking lot. So in an interview when the employer was going on about how convenient their parking lot is and how many other businesses don’t offer that I told them that I did a trial run before the interview – to gauge commute and check out the parking situation because nothing makes me happier than off street parking.

Weirdly – they loved that I was a fan girl of their parking lot. Yep – took the job and I still love my reserved space.

So there are times where it works to care about some weird perk – when it’s something they are particularly proud of offering.

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KellyK January 9, 2013 at 9:51 am

I would only mention it if your current commute is particularly egregious and you can talk about it in a way that benefits them and your career progression. “I want a shorter commute,” sounds self-serving, but “In my previous position, I wasn’t able to [be on call, work on proposals, pick up last-minute overtime, etc.] because of the length of the commute. So, being closer to work would allow me to contribute more in those ways,” might work. Even then, it shouldn’t be your primary reason.

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Elizabeth West January 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Not having a car in a place without really good mass transit is a bear. I didn’t get my DL until I was 32 (no issues; just never had a car, and it wasn’t worth it as I could get a state ID anyway). What I used was:

–Feet
–Bus (Santa Cruz, CA had great buses when I lived there and the weather was always good)
–Bicycle (in my hometown, where you could bike across town in 15 minutes even in the snow)
–Rides (when weather was stormy or I just didn’t want to walk or bike)

It wasn’t until I started dating someone who lived 50 miles away that I finally got a poopy little car and my DL. After a succession of poopy cars, I finally have a decent one now. But I’m still anxious about a longer commute. I just can’t get used to having something good; I keep expecting the poor thing to suddenly blow up or die in traffic. And I won’t be able to get anything else for a LONG time; I have to make him last, so I’m loath to put miles on him.

You basically have to know the system, and know how long it will take you between here and there. And you have to have some kind of backup. It’s really, really hard if the place you live isn’t set up for that. I don’t know how anyone in my current city does it. The buses stink, and in many parts of the city, there aren’t even any sidewalks! People get hit all the time!

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Rana January 8, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Oh, gosh, places without sidewalks. I have many rants about those, along with even louder rants about places where you can’t walk from one place to another right across the street without making a mile-long detour to the only place that has a human-friendly crossing.

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ChristineH January 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

THIS!!! I have no issues physically with walking if it’s straightforward and safe. However, my husband and I regularly see people walking along or crossing MAJOR ROADS where it’s clearly unsafe, most likely due to a lack of sidewalks along the path the person needs to take (or, they’re just a little dense….). I imagine it’s not as big an issue in states with newer infrastructure, but here in New Jersey, it’s crazy how wacky travel routes are.

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T. January 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Infrastructure is definitely important, but sometimes it’s not enough. More than once I was using the crosswalk when my light was clear to go, looked both ways, made it across one lane only to barely avoid someone barreling down the second lane.

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T January 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Dallas is an INCREDIBLY non-walking friendly city. I had an internship there that was a 20 minute walk from the DART station – but at least half of the walk was along the unpaved side of the interstate. Not fun.

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Michael January 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm

We have been trained at my workplace to not ask questions about an applicant’s transportation situation; apparently, the use of public transportation can be interpreted as an applicant’s membership in a legally protected class.

Instead, we say something like, “This job requires you to report to work at locations around the metro without being late. Does that work for you?”

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Ask a Manager January 8, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Hmmm. Using public transportation isn’t a protected class on its own, obviously, so I assume your company is concerned that bias against people who use public transportation could disproportionately impact certain races or other protected classes?

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Rana January 8, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I could completely see reliance on public transit being used to weed out people considered undesirable due to disability or class, sadly.

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 7:52 am

Class isn’t legally protected though – and I’m not sure how ruling out public transportation is an indicator of race. If it’s a neighborhood thing most resumes list home addresses.

Disability would be the protected class I can think of that this might cover – which is sad and wrong.

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KellyK January 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

Ruling out public transportation might be a weak indicator for race depending on where you live. I’ve definitely been the only white person on the DC metro on more than one occasion.

I could certainly picture someone who’s both racist and classist asking questions about public transit to rule out “those low-class people” where their mental image of “low-class” includes class and race both.

Disability is probably more likely, because there are much easier ways to sort for race than asking random transportation questions. Like, looking at someone when you interview them.

And you’re right. Very sad, and very wrong.

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T. January 9, 2013 at 9:39 am

This is something I worry about. I do have a noticeable limp. It’s unrelated to my car situation, but it does mean that biking is not an option for me. I suspect that this has played a role not getting hired at certain places, based on the attitude I got when inquiring about openings or returning completed applications, but of course there is no way to prove it and they may have been reacting to something else entirely.

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Natalie January 9, 2013 at 10:35 am

Statistically, anything that disproportionately affects poor people is going to disproportionately affect people of color, particularly black people and native people, as they are substantially more likely to be poor than people of other races. Socioeconomic class may not be directly protected, but my understanding from EEOC guidance documents is that any employment rule can potentially be disallowed if it serves no bona fide purpose and has a disproportionate affect on a protected class.

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 7:47 am

Yep, that’s how it’s been explained to me. The only time I have discussed transportation is for the jobs where a drivers license is required to operate company-owned vehicles.

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Michael January 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm

(That was me.)

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ChristineH January 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm

That’s interesting. I’ll admit that there probably is a bit of a misconception about those who take public transportation, especially the bus (I’m with KellyK below who sometimes feels like the only white person riding sometimes). But I’ve always thought that the assumption by employers was that public transportation isn’t always reliable. (Which is certainly true in some instances, but probably not as much as employers think).

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Anna January 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm

“Busses and feet are just as reliable as cars, after all. When someone is unreliable, it’s usually because of their own behavior (sleeping in and missing the bus) or because their plan was never a reliable one to begin with (like counting on a neighbor for a ride).”

Hmmmm. Have *you* ever had to take two buses to work at 6:45am? There is the delightful chance that a bus will run a full ten minutes late, and your connecting bus will not run again for another 30 minutes, and you will miss your connection.

Maybe this is just the New York subway system, but I’ve seen amazingly brash cuts in the last few years in the MTA, especially bus routes, especially in poor neighborhoods where there already wasn’t train service, especially in “non-optimal” hours like early mornings and late nights (the graveyard shift).

I remember looking at a map and seeing the bus that cut through an entire swath of Brooklyn – nothing else went there, no trains – and learning that it had been disconnected entirely.

No, buses are not reliable. In order for buses to be reliable, you have to wake up an hour earlier than normal, and stand outside for an extra thirty minutes, just in case the bus isn’t running on time and you miss the first one. Which is a bit of an issue in winter.

Just saying. This is not my life these days, but it was. Access to easy, fast, reliable transportation is definitely a privilege, and it’s easy to judge when you have a lot of options as to how to get somewhere, and would never dream of waking up at dawn so you could shiver in some bus depot with the creepos for an hour.

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 9:11 am

3 buses at 5:28 am (in MN winters with a 30 min wait between two and a 5 min between the other two) and I was never once late. I did twice have to walk an extra mile but after chatting with the bus driver that didn’t happen any more.

Some days traffic is bad and my coworkers with cars are late and sometimes you get a flat tire and you aren’t ranting about how horrible driving is and you should only ever walk, and only ever in doors because outside you might slip and fall. Public transit can be as reliable as any other transit.

I did get up and shiver in the bus depot with creeps for hours and walk miles because the driver didn’t flag down the next bus or was going slow on an empty stretch. And it is entirely possible to make busing work.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 10:07 am

I actually have had to take two buses to work early in the morning (two buses and a subway in my career, and it sucked), but I take your point.

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Natalie January 9, 2013 at 10:49 am

I don’t believe that buses and trains are always super reliable, but I do reject the idea that they are consistently or necessarily less reliable than cars, at least in any reasonably sized city.

Most of my co-workers commute from the suburbs to a city, in a metro area that can compete with Atlanta for “worst rush hour traffic” (Twin Cities, if anyone is curious). Every single one of them has been late multiple times a year because of a snow storm, road construction, or a minor accident, all common, predictable issues. (There have also been unpredictable issues, including the highway buckling from heat waves *multiple times* and that time the 35W bridge collapsed.)

In 5 years of bus & bike commuting, I have only been late *because of* my transportation twice. I once popped a tire while biking and had to walk about 10 blocks, and there was once a Sunday night snowstorm that snarled traffic so badly the only person on time lives 3 blocks from the office.

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T. January 9, 2013 at 2:18 am

Hi Alison! This is OP here. Thanks for your speedy response. I actually have an interview scheduled for Thursday (in part due to your great advice on cover letters!) for a job I’m really excited about.

Luckily, the place is located about a mile from the central district downtown. I don’t have personal experience with the city bus system but I have heard good things, and it has to be reasonably reliable because of the large, wide-spread student population here. None of the routes go there directly, but it’s only a fifteen to twenty minute walk from stops on the east, west, northwest, and south (and considerably less if I can take shortcuts instead of going around the long way on the sidewalks). Hourly pick ups go from 6:15 AM until 6:45 PM Monday through Saturday, with limited routes until 11:45 PM and Sundays. The business’s hours are 10:00 AM -5:30 PM, so I am in the clear with the possible exception of Sundays. Plus, it only costs $20 for a monthly bus pass.

That means I should have a lot of options when I move sometime in the next two months. For the time being, my friend is willing to drive me into town before he goes to work and pick me up after he finishes. If he ends up gone for the weekend, I can still (somewhat expensively) make it there as long as I could leave early Sunday evenings.

Of course, none of this may be an issue. I’ll have a more in-depth conversation with my friend before the interview to come up with a plan regarding weekends. I won’t bring up transportation at all unless it becomes a problem when I move. They already know that I’ll be moving soon–since it’s an antique furniture store, I worked into my cover letter how much I like their products and would probably end up buying some of them for my new place. Besides, when I scheduled my interview they gave me a small time range instead of a specific appointment, so I imagine that they have a fairly flexible attitude.

Thank you again! Now I’m going to start reading up on interviews.

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COT January 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Good luck! This sounds like it could be a great opportunity. I would encourage you to get firsthand knowledge of the transit system–try it out before accepting the offer, just to make sure it’s as good as you believe it to be.

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 6:51 am

For me it’s about reliability and not how you get there – I don’t care if it’s a horse and buggy. So I’d stay away from any reference to getting rides – if the topic comes up speak about how you will be self-sufficient in getting there.

I drove my son to his part time job for 9 months and he was never late, I know some rides can be reliable…but often they are not. Friends get tired of driving you, or people break up and all of a sudden people give notice because they have no way to get to work.

I am sure the OP wouldn’t do this, but on the topic of public transportation I wanted to mention it’s important not to assume that you’ll meet a co-worker who will be happy to give you rides or take you/pick you up from the train/bus when the weather is bad.

Every place that I’ve worked where people took public transportation there would be one or two people who did this and they were universally resented. Someone offering once as a favor is one thing, but too often it turns into that person hanging around the office waiting for someone to leave to drop them off…or calling the office from the train station for a ride into work because of inclement weather.

I’m sure 90% of people who take public transportation wouldn’t think of imposing like this – but it’s frequent enough to caution it because it’s another reason (distant second behind reliability) that employers get nervous if a candidate doesn’t have their own car.

Self-sufficiency. It’s never your co-workers responsibility to get you to and from work. If you do meet someone who doesn’t mind driving you, really doesn’t mind, that’s great. Make sure you kick in for gas.

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KellyK January 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

For me it’s about reliability and not how you get there – I don’t care if it’s a horse and buggy. So I’d stay away from any reference to getting rides – if the topic comes up speak about how you will be self-sufficient in getting there.

Totally agree with this. Getting rides should be a secondary or tertiary back-up plan, not something you count on.

Also, favors should be reciprocal. Kicking in for gas is a minimum. If someone is helping you out on a regular basis, look for ways to help them out.

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T. January 9, 2013 at 9:48 am

I plan on getting rides only while I’m staying with my friend because that is what he finds most convenient. We both agree that I should start working as soon as I can instead of waiting until I move, but even if I disagreed with him, he’s been letting me stay with him rent-free while I get everything sorted out, so his preference trumps mine in this scenario. It’s as much to his benefit as to mine for him to provide me with reliable rides, for which I’m still very grateful.

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Laura L January 10, 2013 at 9:20 am

That’s awesome! Your friend sounds great!

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Meghan January 9, 2013 at 8:18 am

OP, are you still in Buffalo? I’m too :) The NFTA sucks, which is sad given how spread out our area is but I’ve seen a lot of grassroots rideshares popping up and it might be feasible to work out a schedule with that?

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T. January 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

No, I’m in Virginia now, but rideshares are a good possibility!

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mimimi January 9, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Bus (and train) schedules are not always as reliable as feet or your own vehicle!! It depends where you live and work and what the state of public transportation is there. In NYC, re: subways and buses, there are frequently delays for one reason or another, but they run 24/7 and there are often alternate routes you can take. On Long Island, though, the buses are awful, the trains are OK, but neither of them are enough to get to all destinations without some other method (car service, for example).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t the responsibility of the employee to navigate and handle whatever the transportation situation is, but it is not true that public transportation is always reliable.

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SubwayFan January 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I know I’m late to the party on this, but I had to add this story.

I didn’t get a license to drive in high school, because I had no access to a car and it wasn’t worth it. In college everything was at the campus and friends had cars. Then I moved to a big city, where there was great transportation: subway, bus, railroad.

Earlier this year, when looking for a job, a posting came up that seemed too good to be true, but it was out in the suburbs. I knew there was a rail station out in that town, so I had hopes that I could commute that way should I get the job. My father-in-law drove me to my interview, and we discovered the rail stop was 10 miles from the office. During the interview, for the first time ever, I was asked if I had a car. I was completely honest, and said, “You know, I don’t even have a license. But if this job is as great as it seems now, I will learn to drive, heck, I’ll invent a transporter beam if I need to. Please don’t worry about how I’d get here.”

The guy was very impressed with my honesty and my ambition, and it worked in my favor. Not only did I get the job, but I got a much bigger starting salary for the position than was originally offered because he knew I’d have to buy a car. I got my license two weeks before I started, and while I miss reading on a subway commute and driving an hour each way isn’t great fun, my job is really terrific and I love it.

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