By Bethia Burke
“Do you have reliable transportation to get to work?”
For someone interviewing for a job, the only possible answer to this question is, “Yes.”
The ability to get to work is a prerequisite for employment. Employers can easily see whether a person does—or doesn’t—make it to work every day on time. For employees who make it, there are no further questions; those who don’t can face termination. How someone gets to work, though, is a hidden issue that can cost employers good workers and people their jobs.
Consider the story of a real worker for a manufacturer based in a Northeast Ohio suburb. This worker’s girlfriend drove him to work until the early morning commute got to be too much. He switched to the bus, where he could either be an hour early or 15 minutes late every day. (He wasn’t late.) His hourly wage, considered livable for a household with no children, was insufficient to afford housing near his job. The expense of owning and operating his own car simply wasn’t affordable (conservative estimates peg the cost of car ownership at $10,000 per year).
Versions of this story play out every day in workplaces across the country. Nationally, one in twelve people live in households without a car. In Cleveland, the statistics are even more pronounced: Nearly one in four residents don’t have a car and, in the lowest income neighborhoods in the city, more than one in two residents don’t own or have access to a car.
At the Fund for Our Economic Future, where issues we work on include access to talent, we’ve heard from employers some version of the refrain, “I can’t get anyone to show up every day on time” for years.
Yet, behind each story of a worker showing up every day for work on time —or not—is a person who has scraped together several thousand dollars to buy and fuel (in many cases, a barely roadworthy, used) car, or is taking public transit, often a long commute requiring multiple buses and a last-mile walk on a six-lane road with no sidewalks (and that same commute to get home).
The first breakdown of that car, late bus, or a sick child needing to be picked up from their neighborhood school in the middle of the day too often leaves someone stuck in a no car, no job; no job, no car paradox. This paradox disproportionately affects communities of color, people with lower educational attainment, and people living in poverty.
ASK EMPLOYEES HOW THEY GET TO WORK
Company leaders setting policies and expectations can be surprised to learn how much public transit and car access issues impact their employees because they own a reliable car and have never thought about it. Once transportation challenges are visible, employers can act (see the next point).
LOSE THE RELIABLE TRANSPORTATION QUESTION IN JOB INTERVIEWS
Car-less and transit-reliant job seekers are likely to self-select out of jobs they know they will have a hard time getting to, and those who do apply are discouraged from being honest about barriers if they think it will cost them an offer.
If you’re an employer willing to accommodate these workers—for example, by providing a short-term rental car for the first few months on a job so they can save up for their own vehicle, offering emergency car repair funds, allowing flexible shift times to accommodate public transit schedules, or providing last-mile shuttle service—say so. (And make these options accessible to existing employees to improve retention.)
OFFER PRETAX COMMUTER BENEFITS
Employees can contribute up to $300 pretax dollars per month toward commuting expenses for public transit, vanpooling, and qualified parking, according to the latest IRS guidance. Many transit authorities’ commuter benefits programs include a guaranteed ride home for employers in areas with intermittent transit service.
FACILITATE CARPOOLING OR SHUTTLE SERVICES
Help employees save money and reduce emissions by commuting together. Offer a platform that helps employees connect with each other to form carpools. (Uber and Lyft have developed carpooling tools, and Ride Amigos offers corporate solutions.) You can also work with providers like SHARE Mobility or Commute with Enterprise to offer shuttle and vanpool services as a pretax benefit.
MAKE WORKPLACE CAMPUSES SAFER AND FRIENDLIER FOR COMMUTERS
Better connect to public transit and promote greener, healthier commute options with improved sidewalk, street, and bike networks around your workplace. Improve walkability and provide secure bike racks. Price employee parking but offer flexible options like charging a daily rate instead of a monthly one. If parking is unpriced, offer cash-out programs to employees who don’t use parking facilities.
While increases in remote work options have reduced the commuting burden for some employees, there’s still a sizable workforce that must show up to work. Employers supporting improved transportation access for onsite workers can increase their overall competitiveness for talent and break the no job, no job; no job, no car paradox.