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Saving Time, Money and the Environment by Alternative Commuting

Carpooling, vanpooling, walking, biking and riding public transit are alternatives to the traditional commute of driving alone to work.

Maya Hargett works odd hours – sometimes staying up late at night on the phone with someone in Singapore; other days getting up early to do business with someone in India. But she's still able to spend most days at home with her 6-year-old daughter.

“Most days I telecommute, so I get out of bed and walk to the office,” said Hargett, 34, a business analyst. On some days, about once a week, she drives from Lawrenceville to her office in Alpharetta.

She began telecommuting at her employer's suggestion, and she's glad she made the switch. Because she sometimes works unusual hours and because much of her work involves interacting with people other than coworkers, Hargett said telecommuting is especially suited to her job. She's also glad to save money on gas.

“If I were going into the office, I'd have to fill up twice a week,” she said. “Also, for me, it's frustrating to know I'm losing time sitting in traffic.”

Telecommuting is only one alternative to the traditional commute of driving alone to work, said Brian Carr, director of communications for the Clean Air Campaign. Other options in the Atlanta area include carpooling, vanpooling (similar to carpooling, but more formally organized and with up to 14 passengers), walking, biking and taking public transit.

Carr also mentioned many benefits of alternative forms of commuting, such as the cost savings. Driving to work costs the average commuter $0.56 per mile, he said, and carpooling two or three times a week could save the average metro Atlanta commuter up to $1,000 a year.

Also, “commuters enjoy a little bit less stress when they don't have to be behind the wheel,” Carr said.

And almost all methods of commuting are better for the environment than driving to work alone. Every mile that commuters aren't driving alone in cars presents the opportunity to keep one pound of pollution out of the air, Carr said.

“This has the dual benefit of getting people out of their cars to avoid traffic and getting people out of their cars to avoid polluting the environment,” he said.

Commuters looking to change how they get to work can try carpooling, MARTA or teleworking, Carr suggested. The Clean Air Campaign offers a database to match commuters who live and work near each other for carpooling.

To overcome the barrier of getting people to try a different way of commuting, the Clean Air Campaign provides incentives for those who log their commute activity online through the Commuter Rewards program.

For making the change to an alternative method of commuting, people can earn $3 a day up to $100 in a 90-day period, Carr said. For participating in carpools of three or more people, members can earn $40-$60 gas gift cards. And for every commute logged that isn't driving solo, commuters have a chance to win a $25 prize. In February, the Clean Air Campaign randomly awarded 900 of these prizes, which are funded primarily by a federal grant and also by corporate sponsors.

Hargett first started using Commuter Rewards at a previous job where she carpooled to get to work, and she has won gas cards from the Clear Air Campaign several times for logging her commute, she said. Although telecommuting gives her more time for both her employer and her family, she said one drawback is less interaction with coworkers. Also, some employers are reluctant to try it because they think employees with be less productive out of the office, she said.

But for her, “my employer being able to entrust that to me has made me more disciplined,” Hargett said.

Carr also mentioned misconceptions by employers that teleworking makes employees less productive as a challenge. Also, “10 percent unemployment can break up a carpool pretty easily,” and cuts to bus and rail service may limit routes that customers can travel, he said.

Another commuter, Saville Atkins, 40, who works in communications, uses several methods to get to work. Some days he drives to and takes a bus from there to his job downtown. Sometimes he drives to Doraville and takes MARTA from there. And some days he works from home.

For Atkins, the decision to switch to alternative ways of commuting came when he got a job farther away and didn't want to spend so much time in traffic. He also likes saving money on gas, parking, and wear and tear on his car.

“While [other commuters] are fighting the traffic trying to get home, I'm on a nice warm bus taking a nap or reading a book,” he said.

One drawback to taking public transportation, he said, is if there were a family emergency and he had to get home quickly, he would not be able too. But he's not too worried about that, because of the Clean Air Campaign's Guaranteed Ride Home program, which gives commuters three tickets a year that will reimburse the cost of a taxi from work to home.

Like Hargett, Atkins said working from home lets him spend more time with his kids.

“When I work from home I also get to see my kids after school,” he said. “I get to walk them to the bus stop in the morning.”

Now, Atkins says he's so comfortable taking public transportation that if his family wanted to spend a day in downtown Atlanta, they'd take public transit rather than driving.

And for Carr, alternative commuting is working out as well.

“I'm a five-day-a-week MARTA rider, from Indian Creek to downtown, and it's great,” he said. “I get to sit there and read the paper.”

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