Commuting alternatives on the rise

LAWRENCEVILLE - Ditching your car and replacing it with another mode of transportation is the name of the game this week. With gas prices hovering around $4 per gallon and the metro area having some of the country's worst traffic, all commuters are being asked to play.

"Four dollar a gallon gas is doing what $3 a gallon gas didn't," said Kevin Green, executive director for the Clean Air Campaign. "We've definitely seen a spike the last few months."

The spike which Green is referring to is the campaign's Cash for Commuters program, which asks single-car commuters to try alternatives in which they are paid $3 daily for their service. Alternative transportation can include carpooling, teleworking, taking public transit, biking and even walking. The Clean Air Campaign is Atlanta's answer to the region's notoriously poor air quality and traffic congestion. Funded by government and private donors, the group's purpose is to motivate individuals to change their commuting habits and live a clean air lifestyle. This week, the group is pushing commuters to give up their car, if only for a day.

So far, it appears the program is working.

According to Green, applications for the Cash for Commuters program in May nearly doubled from what they were in May 2007. Green also said applications received in June of this year are already four-and-a-half times more than what they were in June of last year.

The Cash for Commuters program isn't the only recent transit success story either. According to William Mecke of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the Xpress Georgia commuter bus program, which serves 12 metro Atlanta counties, has already seen a 77 percent increase in ridership in the past year.

"The 418 (Snellville to downtown route) has always been popular," Mecke said. "But lately it's been standing room only."

For Clark Howard, Atlanta's consumer advocate, he'd like to see both public officials and the general population think differently about commuting.

"People are getting beaten over the head with a two-by-four because of these gas prices," Howard said. "We're prisoners to our cars."

With Atlanta being such a technologically advanced city, Howard would like to see more telework being done and more companies go to a four-day work week in which employees work 10 hours a day. He said employees working from home and working fewer days would not only improve productivity and morale, but would also drastically improve the air quality in the summer.

Green agrees and said the idea is starting to catch on with businesses.

"Obviously it depends on the nature of one's job, but telework is emerging," he said. "Atlanta is one of the most wired regions in the country and it's not a hard sell when productivity increases."

Regardless of the alternative mode of transit people might decide upon, what's most important is realizing there are other options than driving, said Green. And in terms of traffic congestion and air quality, each car removed from the road helps.

"If everyone would give their car a day off one day a week, we'd see a 20 percent reduction in traffic," he said.