As much as I might like to go off the grid, I can’t (how else could I write this blog); therefore, the job search has begun. During an interview today, I was asked a strange question: “do you have reliable transportation?” Ostensibly, they’re asking, “can you get to work on time?” but what they really mean is, “do you own an automobile?”
Admittedly, this is not a strange question for some jobs. Someone applying for a traveling salesperson position would understandably be expected to have a vehicle. However, for a position that does not require traveling—you know, most jobs in America, the kind where you show up to an office and stay in one location all day—how you come and go from that office should be of little concern to your employer. They shouldn’t care if you wanted to get to work in this:
Or even this:
Just kidding. No sane person rollerblades, even if they are motorized. Anyway, society’s general perception is that the only way to consistently get to work on time is to drive your own personal vehicle. Even if you’re driving this beater:
Let’s see if we can find any evidence to show that cars are actually more reliable than other forms of transportation.
The first thing to consider, of course, is commute times. In some big cities with heavy automobile traffic, bikes, trains, and even walking make for faster commutes than driving. However, even I will concede that this isn’t the case in most areas; most automobile commutes are probably faster than biking or walking commutes of the same distance. Although not according to this report from the Public Policy Institute of California:
Again, though, I’m sure there’s an explanation there. For one, California has several large cities, where people generally tend to commute shorter distances, and over short distances biking has a time advantage over vehicles. Also, it can be reasonably hypothesized that those who commute by bike probably have shorter distances to commute than those who go by car. For example, a commute from my home in South Bossier to downtown is 7.6 miles and would take 16 minutes by car, according to Google Maps. The same trip by bike, however, would take about 45 minutes according to Google. So there, I’ve said it: automobiles are a faster way to get to work than biking. But does that necessarily mean more reliable? No, it just means that someone biking to work needs to leave earlier than one who drives.
So if the distance/time of a commute does not make a particular commute more or less reliable, then let’s examine the things that do create delays in a commute and cause a person to be late to work.
First, and probably the excuse most used by drivers: “I got caught by a train.” I’ve used it once or twice myself. And it’s understandable. Look at the following screenshot from an Idaho commission planning a railroad overpass:
One train intersection, in IDAHO, causes an estimated 110,286 minutes in delays a year (sure, that’s an estimate for 2025, but I think the point still stands. So, keep that one railroad crossing in mind when you consider this: according to the Federal Railroad Commission, there are about 228,000 at grade railroad crossings in this country. That’s a whole lot of minutes. Before you point out the obvious, I’m not suggesting that bicycles can magically cross a railroad crossing that is occupied by a speeding freight train (although that would only be slightly less dangerous than a typical bicycle commute). However, the cyclist does have the advantage of being able to skip to the front of that long line of traffic that will accumulate at the crossing. And that waiting for that long line of traffic to clear after the train passes takes almost as long as it took for the train to go through the intersection.
Another common cause for tardiness (or at least, excuse for tardiness) is the flat tire excuse. Yes, it’s amazing that anyone can drive anywhere at all based on the number of alleged flats that motorists receive each year. In fact, according to answers.com (only the most reliable source on the internet), there are seven flats per second in this country, resulting in 220 million flat tires per year. Again, this is not to say that bicycle tires do not also get flat; I’ve had more than my fair share of flats. But I am saying—no, more than saying, I would even bet—that I can fix a flat bike tire faster than you can change your car’s flat tire to the spare. I’d even bet that half the drivers out there couldn’t change their own flat tire. Bottom line, if you leave at your normal time driving, and I leave at my normal time biking, and we each get a flat, I’ll probably still be there on time, and you’ll be late.
Then, of course, there are those creaks and clunks and strange lights on the dashboard—uh-oh, your car needs work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any statistics as to the average length of time per year that an average car is in the shop. However, I didn’t find an AAA stat that the average driver spends $7,000 in car repairs for every 15,000 miles driven, so we know it’s expensive. But we’ll save that for a different post. Whatever the actual number is, though, I feel confident in saying that my bike will spend less of its life in the shop than your car. Most bicycle repair problems can be prevented by simple home maintenance, and even issues requiring a shop visit are usually quick trips. For example, on Monday I noticed that my bike had a loose headset. A quick trip to Scooter’s Bike Shop and it was fixed, for no charge, in less than five minutes. Try to get anything on your car fixed in five minutes.
So those are the first three delay causes that I could think of, mainly because those are the three that I used regularly back when I drove a car. To me, it’s plainly obvious that bicycles are actually a more reliable form of transportation than cars. Actually, the only way to be completely free from mechanical problems is to walk.