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Happy summer! All quiet in the skies so far, with zero days experienced to this point in Georgia that have reached into “Code Orange” territory. The last time we made it to the last week of June without a Smog Alert was back in 1997 … when the debut album from the Spice Girls was on top of the charts (fast forward to 2013 and whispers of a reunion tour have grown louder in recent months). So, reach deep into your MP3 playlist for “Wannabe” and savor all that Merging Lanes has to offer in this latest installment.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: GA 400 Tolls Coming Down in November
The State Road and Tollway Authority announced recently a window of time for the GA 400 tolls to cease, along with a plan for how the corridor running through Buckhead will be reshaped. The toll collection is slated to go offline in late-November, but the toll plaza will remain longer. The prelim engineering design shows commuters will have three lanes of access all the way through the toll plaza, and discussions are still ongoing about how to repurpose the widened area of the toll plaza, possibly for greenspace or equipment storage.

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China Seeks to Usher in New Rules on Curbing Smog
While there has been little to report about smog in Georgia so far this summer (not that we’re complaining), a vastly different story is taking shape in Asia. China's unprecedented industrial growth and modernization has brought the country to a sort of crossroads between economic progress and environmental protection. The country's policymakers are exploring new rules to curb lethal smog emissions that linger over industrial centers. But this New York Times article points out the delicate nature of enacting sweeping changes in China. Could social protest and the will of the people to protect their environment cause a Clean Air Act to spring forth in China?

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Metro Atlanta Commuters Dump the Pump for Transit
Last week marked the first known cohesive regional effort to support the American Public Transportation Association's "Dump the Pump" event, now in its 8th year. In all, more than 1,000 commuters took the pledge to ride transit at least once during the week of June 17-21. This activity provided the ideal forum to help educate more commuters in the region about where transit can take them, from Xpress bus service in suburban areas to local shuttles and MARTA rail intown. Find out more about the region's total transit network and see what new enhancements local providers are working on by replaying last week's webinar:

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Beyond the Pump: Overall Commute Costs Inch Upward
Driving alone costs more than just the gas in your tank. There's also oil, tires, wear and tear and a host of other factors that add up as the odometer wheels spin. And overall, the cost per mile to drive a car continues to go up according to the latest AAA "Your Driving Costs" study. Based on a mid-sized sedan driven 15,000 miles annually, the cost per mile to operate and own the vehicle clocks in at 61 cents, up from 59 cents a year ago. What's driving the increase? For starters, gas prices are - stealthily - higher than a year ago. But the cost to repair cars, worn down from all the miles we travel, has also risen, especially in Georgia. In fact, one study ranks Georgia as the sixth costliest state for car repairs. Before the check engine light comes on, consider driving less to make your car last longer.


Brian Carr is Director of Communications at The Clean Air Campaign, one of several organizations in the Atlanta region that deliver Georgia Commute Options programs and services in partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation. A daily MARTA rail rider, Brian uses his morning commute time on the Blue Line to read about current events and play "Words with Friends."

June 21st marks the 7th annual National Dump the Pump Day. Across the country, commuters are being encouraged to hang up their car keys and ride transit instead. Participants will see how transit can help make a daily commute easier and less stressful, and save money on gas and car upkeep.

According to APTA’s recent Transit Saving Report, a two-person household can save, on average, more than $10,000 a year by downsizing to one car. The estimate is based on current gas prices, monthly parking rates and a person purchasing a 30-day Breeze Pass for MARTA.

On Wednesday the 13th, MARTA held an awareness event at the Five Points station promoting Dump the Pump Day. The Atlanta Dream mascot, Star, made an appearance, along with a prize wheel where spinners had a chance to win Breeze Cards, Atlanta Dream tickets and tons of other prizes. The event encouraged current MARTA riders to spread the word about the Dump the Pump Day.

Quick Facts:

  • In 2011, Americans took 10.4 billion trips on transit
  • Using transit is the quickest way to beat high gas prices
  • Transit has a proven record of reducing congestion
  • In 2010, U.S. transit use saved 796 million hours in travel time and 303 million gallons of fuel in 439 urban areas
  • A single commuter switching his or her commute to transit can reduce a household’s carbon emission by 10%

MARTA runs 5 AM to 1:30 AM Monday through Friday and 5 AM to 12:30 AM on weekends and holidays.  Click here to see the MARTA transit and which bus or rail station is most convenient for you.  If MARTA doesn't work for your commute, maybe Cobb County Transit (CCT), Gwinnett County Transit (GCT) or GRTA Xpress will work for you.

With the changing of seasons each year, Georgia commuters see a roller coaster rise and fall of gas prices. We have waved goodbye to winter gas prices that seemed like a bargain when they were $3 a gallon, and are approaching the peak gas price season of the year: the summer, which brings a higher demand for gasoline where families take advantage of the warm weather and school breaks to get on the road.

Gas prices outside of Georgia

Even though we are currently seeing prices as high as $4.09 per gallon in some areas of the state, Georgia gas prices are significantly lower than other parts of the country and well below most developed countries around the world. While gasoline costs roughly the same to make no matter where in the world it is produced, the difference in retail costs is due to the fact that some governments subsidize gas while others tax it heavily.

Less demand, higher prices

Overall, the United States has seen some behavior changes over the past couple of years regarding Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Since 2007, the average VMT in the southeast has generally been declining. While it seems the demand for gasoline has slowly and steadily been dropping, the retail prices continue to rise. Georgians are currently paying $0.10 more per gallon than where we were at this same time last year. Do you think this is ominous of what is to come?

What can you do about rising gas prices?

The most immediate thing anyone can do to get relief from volatile gas prices is simply driving less. More than 400,000 commuters in the Atlanta region alone are using alternative commute methods such as carpooling or vanpooling in order to share the costs of gas, or riding transit, walking, or bicycling to work, or even teleworking to avoid the commute altogether. When will rising gas prices motivate you to get off the roller coaster and try something different on your daily commute?

Learn more about commute alternatives and ways for you to save money this summer at

Over the past decade, more than 32,000 Georgians have been part of a program that rewards them for doing their part to clear the roads and clean the air.  It was 10 years ago this fall that The Clean Air Campaign started offering commuters a financial nudge to make a change in the name of cleaner air and less traffic.  The incentive was initially only offered in metro Atlanta, and only during smog season.  Today there are more incentives that make up the Commuter Rewards program, and they are available year-round, to all Georgia commuters.

The idea for Cash for Commuters was borne out of a question we ask ourselves all the time at The Clean Air Campaign: what can we do to influence commuters to change their behavior? 

Some 82% of commuters in metro Atlanta – and 79% of commuters statewide – drive alone.  Why not pay them a nominal amount to try alternatives like carpooling, vanpooling, riding transit, bicycling or walking on their trips to and from work?  In effect, this outcome is designed to pay commuters to break an existing habit just as much as it is to acquire a new one. 

These became the cornerstone principles of the Cash for Commuters program:

  1. If the drive-alone skeptics could experience the benefits of not being behind the wheel over the course of a trial period – and come to appreciate those benefits – the money would be a great investment.  Data shows 74 percent of participants are still using alternatives to the solo drive 18-24 months after their participation in the Cash for Commuters program ends.
  2. Applying the old adage that it takes about 30 days to form or break a habit, the trial period needed to be long enough for commuters to see the difference in their household budgets and their stress levels. 
  3. Documenting commute activity during program participation could show commuters and employers alike the difference they make, expressed in terms of vehicle miles not traveled, air pollution not emitted and financial savings on commute costs.  Each workday, the commuters who take part in this and other Clean Air Campaign programs help eliminate 1.4 million vehicle miles of travel and keep 700 tons of pollution out of the air we all breathe, while saving $658,000 on commute costs.  

While the Cash for Commuters program rewards those who switch with $3 a day, up to a $100 maximum payout, the experience shows it’s not just about the money.  That’s why other regions around the U.S. became interested in creating similar programs.  The experience here in Georgia also has shown that commuters know where to turn for relief when gas prices jump.  There has often been a strong correlation between participation in the Cash for Commuters program and the price at the pump.  After Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf in 2005 and fuel supply lines were crippled, gas price increases drove more Georgia commuters to change their behavior.  And in 2008, the run-up to $4-a-gallon gas had commuters beating down the door to get relief. 

In all seasons and in all circumstances, Georgia commuters share a common trait: seeking ways to make better use of their time and money.  Cash for Commuters, in its ten-year history, has helped thousands of people cross over to the greener pastures of alternative commuting.  Discovering the myriad benefits – for their wallets and their well-being – is what keeps them there.     

Whoever declared "getting there is half the fun" must have been a carpool, vanpool, transit, telework or bike/ped commuter.  Plucked from recent headlines, here are three reasons more of us should try alternatives to driving alone ... because our well-being could literally depend on it:  

Changing your commute could save your marriage. 
Can the hassle of a lengthy commute douse the flames of matrimony?  According to a dissertation from a Swedish institution of higher learning, those with longer commutes have more earning potential and career opportunities ... but they are 40% more likely to get divorced.  Daily roundtrip commute times for one in ten lovelorn Swedes stands at around 45 minutes.  Georgia commuters can top that: in metro Atlanta, the average roundtrip commute clocks in at precisely one hour.  Think of all those honey-drenched text messages you could be sending discreetly to your significant other ("u complete me <3") from the comfort of an Xpress bus or the backseat of a vanpool.

Changing your commute could save you big bucks.
Why can't you afford to dine out on a juicy ribeye or strap on a new pair of shoes?  Because more of your discretionary dollars are going toward gasoline.  Of course you know this, but has it really sunk in?  From Huffington Post, this mathematical moment of clarity:

"For every $10 the typical household earns before taxes, almost a full dollar now goes toward gas, a 40 percent bigger bite than normal.  Families now spend more filling up than they spend on cars, clothes or recreation. Last year, they spent less on gasoline than each of those things." 

The quickest way to shore up your household budget - and free up money to do the things you enjoy - is to keep your car's mileage down.

Changing your commute could save a life.
A new study from the Harvard School of Public health finds that motor vehicle emissions have a public health cost.  Researchers looked at premature deaths in 83 urban areas that were the result of exposure to particle pollution, using models to correlate how much of that pollution was the result of vehicle emissions.  The modeling found that in Atlanta, 70 premature deaths occurred in 2010 that were the result of particle pollution from tailpipes.  The silver lining in this black cloud?  The study notes that premature deaths and related social costs from traffic congestion are declining over the long run, as technology advances, control strategies and voluntary actions have all helped curb particle pollution emissions that come from cars and trucks.  But there's more work to do.  And it starts with the daily commute.

From the time I turned 10 years old, I have been in love with riding my bicycle.  I've ridden, raced, trained and commuted on a bicycle.  I've worked in bike shops, run teams, coached cyclists... I just love the sport of cycling.  The thing is, the bicycle wasn't really invented to be a sport.  It was invented to be a mode of transportation.  A way to get around that was more efficient than walking along whistling Dixie.
Unfortunately, many people have forgotten that and opt to drive in a car wherever they go. They think of cycling as something they can do on a nice day for a couple hours of exercise.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with recreational riding, but why not be able to get someplace on your bike?
As much as I love cycling, there is something extra special about riding my bike to work.  I enjoy leaving my car at home, getting out there, saving gas and burning calories.  It's just awesome.  My commute is no "joy ride" though.  On a good day, it takes me about an hour each way on some not so friendly roads.
In my 30 plus years of cycling, I've learned a lot of things to help me share the road.  As I use these skills, I am able to save over a gallon of gas every time I ride (that's a $4 pay raise!) not to mention the wear and tear on my car. I arrive at work with a fresh attitude and a better outlook on life. The only thing that makes me sad while I am out on the road, is that I almost NEVER see another person commuting on a bike.  Think about this for just a minute. if everybody just committed themselves to using a commute alternative just ONE day a week, you would see:

  • 20% less traffic
  • 20% less air pollution
  • 20% less wear and tear on your car
  • A healthier community
  • A greater appreciation for cyclist and pedestrians as you would know they are helping!

Think about it!  I highly recommend you put some TRANS back in your sportation!  If that doesn't work for you - hike, carpool or work from home!  Be creative.  Help me change the world, one commute at a time!
Scott Patton lives in Marietta.  Bike to Work Week in Atlanta is May 16-20, 2011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  Since 2005, we’ve convinced more than 70,000 Georgia commuters there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Think green today – and every day – and enjoy the latest installment of Merging Lanes.

Telework Seminar Recap
A panel of telework managers representing a cross-section of industries shared their perspective earlier this week on how to make telework successful.  A sampling of some of their observations:

  • The lines are blurring between work and home.  You see the bevy of people with laptops at coffee houses soaking in java and wi-fi.  You see the legions of mobile phone users thumbing e-mail messages.  In the Atlanta region, 600,000 commuters telework on occasion.  That’s enough people to fill up Turner Field 12 times.
  • The decision to offer telework spans a range of motivational factors from attracting talent to offloading real estate expenses to delivering a modicum of work-life balance.
  • The biggest obstacle to getting buy-in from managers centers on trust.  How can you trust employees to do their jobs from home when you cannot see their nose to the grindstone?  Managers have to stop obsessing over this conundrum and trust their employee’s understanding of a simple code: “You have an objective.  Get it done.”

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Seeking Relief from the $700 Sting

Gas prices have climbed nearly 90 cents in Georgia between mid-September 2011 and mid-March 2012. How has this affected your discretionary spending?  The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates higher prices will cost the average U.S. household $700 more this year in gasoline than in 2010.  With wild predictions swirling around about the future of gas prices, now is a good time to take a look at your commuting options.  In 2008, $4 a gallon was the threshold that brought more people to reconsider driving alone.  What is the proverbial tipping point this go around?

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Clean Air Schools Move to Head of the Class

The education program that brings students, teachers, administrators and parents together for less traffic and cleaner air has reached an incredible milestone on the journey to foster clean air values and awareness. 300 schools across Georgia are now involved in Clean Air Schools programs that reduce vehicle trips on campuses, reduce unnecessary idling in the carpool lane and teach youths about the link between transportation and air quality.  Here’s to the next 300 schools.

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Positively Mad About High-Speed Rail
Three-time Golden Globe award-winning TV drama “Mad Men” counts some big admirers of high-speed rail transit among its cast.  The show takes place in NYC in the 1960s, when commuters could choose between taking the train into work or driving and being able to snag a parking spot with minimal effort.  The producers shot this fun vignette about travel choices as part of an advocacy campaign for high-speed rail.
Worth a vote.

We were saddened this week to learn that The New York Times has declared carpooling dead.  The article describes a national trend that the vital signs for carpooling, once thriving in the 70's during the oil crisis, have been declining over the past 30 years -- and now a once-popular solution to combating fuel prices and traffic has passed away. 

According to the Times, carpooling is survived by its distant cousin, slugging.

The Clean Air Campaign, along with metro Atlanta carpoolers, read the obituary.  But we didn’t get the memo.

Reports about the death of carpooling are greatly exaggerated.  In fact, the American Community Survey shows metro Atlanta carpool numbers have held rather steady over the past decade:


% Atlanta Commuters Who Carpool

















Looking at the national picture, remember that carpooling first appeared as a data point on the census in 1980, when the aftereffects of the oil crisis were still raging.  And it’s not surprising that carpool numbers went down from 1980 to 1990 as oil prices stabilized.  In spite of this, Atlanta ranks among the top 10 U.S. cities for carpooling based on 2000 census figures.    

Georgia – particularly Atlanta – is better positioned than many other areas of the U.S. to make carpooling attractive to commuters and employers because of programs like:

  • Guaranteed Ride Home – when carpoolers and other users of commute alternatives need to get home because of an unexpected event – or have to work late – RideSmart and The Clean Air Campaign can arrange a free ride home.
  • Ridematching Assistance – there’s a database of 50,000 Georgia commuters seeking carpool partners, vanpool partners and bike buddies.  Chances are, many of them may live and work near you.
  • Carpool Rewards – carpools of three or more can earn $40-$60 in monthly gas cards from The Clean Air Campaign.

It could also be argued that Atlanta's limited transit footprint makes it more likely for commuters to opt for carpooling if they're motivated to do something other than drive alone and have the means. 

So we say to those grieving over the death of carpooling, before you pull the hearse around front, be sure to hold Atlanta out of the funeral procession.

With the cunning stealth of a swamp crocodile, gas prices throughout Georgia have crept back above the $3 mark and pounced on Georgia commuters. It's been a long, quiet ascent - which is perhaps why commuters have continued to tolerate the bite from this increase, unlike the wild ride in 2008 that brought about less driving. Are we headed for a repeat of those volatile times?

The distant speculation about paying $5 a gallon for gas in the future has received lots of attention after a former oil executive offered his dire prediction for 2012. Maybe this is what the Mayans were all worked up about with regard to 2012. But The Atlantic this week published a good reminder that tomorrow can wait. Today's "gas pains" are uncomfortable enough as it is, especially in Atlanta.

As more commuters sharpen their pencils and work to wrangle household budgeting for present times, The Atlantic suggests that policymakers jump in and do more to alleviate the burden of rising fuel prices by encouraging telework, ridesharing and tax relief for employers who get behind commute options programs.

Good news, folks. Georgia already has the infrastructure in place to do this and more. The Clean Air Campaign and its partners have been in front of this issue for more than a decade now, working with more than 1,600 employers and tens of thousands of commuters across the state. These groups knew where to turn for fiscal relief when the petrol pandemonium of 2008 jumped up and grabbed them, as evidenced by the 100% uptick in program participation by employers and the threefold increase in commuter incentives participants. So bring it on, volatile gas prices. We're still here ... and in 2011, we're ready to help Georgians in even more ways.

Welcome to the dog days of summer 2009. The sun is hot and there are burning questions to address about transportation and air quality. So, grab some shade and pour yourself a tall glass of knowledge in this edition of Merging Lanes.

Is there less traffic on the roads?

The latest edition of the Urban Mobility Report, a comprehensive study of traffic congestion in major cities, says Atlanta is no longer the 2nd worst city in the nation for commuters. We are now the 3rd worst city for commuters. Only Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. commuters waste more time in traffic and burn up more fuel going nowehere than Atlanta commuters do. Yay, us.

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But didn't $4 gas and the recession cause bigger changes than that?

Unfortunately, this new data only gets us through 2007, when pump prices had just started their painful ascent and the first tremors of economic collapse were still faint. Certainly when the 2008 numbers become available, the effect of gas prices and the sour economy will be much more pronounced. But for now, we only get to pore over the 2007 numbers, which say the average metro Atlanta commuter wasted two fewer gallons of fuel than the prior year and two fewer hours stuck in gridlock. Raise your hand if you've truly felt the positive impact of these "savings" in your commute. Stay tuned for more recent traffic data that may become available in the near term.

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So, how should employers, commuters and policymakers interpret this new data?
With a grain of salt. Yes, the region saw improved traffic conditions in 2007 and will be able to say that traffic improved even further in 2008. But it's improper to say our traffic problems are fixed. Market conditions provided temporary relief ... and market conditions are largely beyond our control. Metro Atlanta is grappling with 9.5% unemployment, which is good for the still-employed who can negotiate through lighter traffic to get to their jobs, but bad for Georgia's economic vitality. Whipsawing fuel prices cause people to drive less, but only when costs rise dramatically. One of the best takeaways from the Urban Mobility Report is this statement on the first page about how to achieve long-term improvement:

"There are many congestion problems but there are also many solutions. The most effective strategy is one where agency actions are complemented by efforts of businesses,manufacturers, commuters and travelers."

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How is Georgia's air quality faring this Smog Season?

As of July 10, Metro Atlanta has experienced 8 Code Orange days so far this smog season, when ground-level ozone concentrations were deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups. Last year at this point, Atlanta had experienced 16 bad air days. Middle Georgia has registered two such days this year, compared with three by this point in 2008. North Georgia has also racked up a pair of Code Orange days this year, versus five by this time a year ago. As we approach the midpoint in the 2009 smog season, things are looking up: we're coming out of a drought, temperatures have not consistently boiled over ... and we hope more commuters are reducing their contribution to smog by finding better ways to get to and from work.