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Next week is a great week to shake up the routine a little in your daily commute. The Clean Air Campaign, together with Clark Howard and the crew at 750 AM WSB and the region's local Transportation Management Associations, want you to pick a day next week to give your car the day off. Last year, some 1,300 metro Atlanta commuters pledged to do it (when gas prices rose above $4 last year, it's easy to see why). This year, let's raise the bar! You can sign up here to take part.

Need a little motivation to participate this go around? Here are five great reasons to give your car the day off:

  1. Every mile you drive alone is costing you 54 cents. That adds up over time, especially in Atlanta, which is recognized as one of the most expensive areas for commuters nationwide. Did you know the average metro ATL household spends more than $8,000 a year on transportation costs? That's more than we spend on food.
  2. You can get more done when you're not behind the wheel. With an average commute time in the region of 36 minutes each way, we're all looking for ways to be more productive. Why not hop on an Xpress bus or carpool and read a book or catch up on e-mail?
  3. Half of all smog-forming emissions come from the tailpipes of cars and trucks. That's a major factor in the number of days we experience when air quality is deemed unhealthy for outdoor activity. Fewer tailpipes is good for the air we breathe. Try carpooling. If you need help finding a person to share the ride, The Clean Air Campaign can direct you to RideSmart, a division of the Atlanta Regional Commission that runs a service to match commuters who live and work near each other.
  4. Not having to drive means less stress from the grind of traffic and the "unpredictable actions" of other commuters who are competing for space on the roads. You don't have to get worked up about the dummy who zooms past you and changes lanes without signaling when you're teleworking.
  5. When you leave your car in the driveway and choose a different way to get to work, you're not using up as much energy. Try MARTA. They're also supporting an event next week -- on Thursday, June 18 -- called "Dump the Pump." We all remember how exasperating it was last year to shell out big bucks for gas. It's still painful to pay $2.50 a gallon. Try an alternative so you don't need to fill up the tank as often.

Giving your car the day off one day next week is just a starting point, of course. We want you to do it once in hopes that you'll consider doing it more often. There are more than 350,000 commuters across town who have come to enjoy alternatives to driving alone. We need more to accomplish our mission of less traffic and cleaner air.

What are our most basic needs to ensure survival in the modern world?

Food. Clothing. Shelter. And ... transportation?

Average household expenditures in metro Atlanta paint a picture that few of us may have considered until the sour economy caused us to reexamine our spending. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, Atlanta households spend:

  • 38% of income on housing
  • 17% of income on transportation
  • 12% of income on food
  • 4% of income on clothing

Shocking to think that, on average, Atlantans spend more of our income on transportation than we do on food. So, how did transportation muscle its way into what we consider our bare essentials for survival?

It's got plenty to do with explosive population growth in the Sun Belt, combined with an unyielding appetite for suburban living and economic expansion that favors automobile travel. Over the past decade, the region has brought in a wave of new residents equal to the entire population of Denver. And the average household has 1.7 vehicles. Most commuters drive alone to and from work at a cost of 54¢ a mile.

In several ways, this snapshot of household spending hints at our willingness to pay in order to keep distance between work life and home life. But the current recession has created more pressure on household budgets everywhere. Can we afford to keep transportation -- specifically driving alone an average of 39.4 miles a day roundtrip to the jobs that are the source of our household income, as 84% of us do -- as high up on the list of bare essentials as it is?

When times are lean, a typical household's first move is to cut vacations, dining out and big-ticket purchases in order to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on the table. But, at a hefty 17% of household expenditures, it should be the cost of transportation that warrants a closer look.

An important barometer for personal transportation is vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a measurement used to communicate how much we're driving ... or not driving. This metric is important because federal transportation funding for new roads and repairs of existing roads is tied to VMT.

It's incredible to think that commuters are now entering the second year of declining travel on our nation's roadways. According to recent national statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, we drove more than 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007. The data indicate that vehicle miles traveled in Georgia continue to trend downward, with the latest numbers available -- December 2008 -- showing a 1% decline (50 million fewer vehicle miles of travel on Georgia roads) over the prior December.

Many believe escalating fuel prices triggered the decline in late 2007. But what's causing the decline to continue now that the cost of a gallon of gas has remained more predictable? Most signs point to the ailing economic conditions that touch every corner of America. It stands to reason that fewer Americans would be driving as often if they've been laid off or if businesses are closing their doors. But is there room to accommodate the thought that, because of both the recent experience with volatile fuel prices and the ongoing experience of hard economic times, perhaps more commuters are making conscious decisions to think differently about the way they get to and from work?

While VMT continues to go down, alternatives to driving like telework and transit are decidedly on the rise. More employers are turning to telework as a cost-cutting strategy that also improves employee morale. And transit ridership in 2008 reached its highest levels since the Eisenhower administration -- but new money for transit is desperately needed to keep the momentum going. Still, another positive side-effect of the decline in VMT is that less wear and tear on roads and bridges could make them last longer, at a time when funding for large-scale repairs is not readily available.

How long do you see the slide continuing in the number of vehicle miles we're traveling each month? Is this a signal that commuters are making permanent changes to their travel routines ... or just a small blip on the radar screen?

Telecommuter Appreciation Week is coming to a close, which presents some key opportunities to brag on the success more employers are finding with telework as a critical workplace strategy that creates bottom-line benefits. Clearly, the current economic conditions employers are facing do not invite much capacity for expansion or risk-taking. The focus is squarely on riding out the financial storm, looking internally at operational efficiency and keeping the workforce motivated.

These priorities match extremely well with the adoption of telework programs. And when it's made available, employees are jumping at the opportunity to telework because of its myriad benefits: savings on commute costs and work attire, reclaimed time from not having to travel to work and enhanced work/life balance. Seldom have these factors been more important to employees than in the current economic climate.

The nation's most well-regarded employers are leading the charge, as evidenced by the latest release of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. 83% offer telework.

The numbers indicate occasional telework is becoming more widespread. A study found the number of employees who work remotely at least once a month jumped from approximately 28.7 million Americans in 2006 to 33.7 million in 2008 -- a 17-percent increase in that two-year span.

From The Clean Air Campaign's perspective, the best commute is the one that doesn't involve a tailpipe, as every mile driven puts a pound of pollution into the air we breathe. Telework stands out among the cleanest commute options available in a region that is regarded as one of the most wired in the U.S.

To the quarter-million-plus teleworkers in metro Atlanta, thanks for doing your part to make our roads a little clearer and the air a little cleaner. Your efforts are appreciated not just during Telecommuter Appreciation Week, but every time you work from home.

As Georgia's economy continues to scrape along, the question employers and employees are beginning to ask more frequently is, "Where else can I cut back?"

There are lots of signals being sent that indicate how individuals are prioritizing their finances while waiting for the financial landscape to thaw. But what are many of us unwilling to sacrifice?

A recent survey puts home Internet access and cell phone service at the top of a list of consumer "untouchables" that would not be slashed from a household budget. Four out of five consumers rank Internet as indispensable and two out of three consumers placed cell phone service off limits from being cut. From there, the list of perceived "must-haves" gets more subjective.

This, of course, leads straight to the question The Clean Air Campaign would ask: Where does commuting rank among the expenses you're willing to keep paying at the level you currently pay? If you're driving alone to and from work each day -- like 84% of metro Atlanta commuters do -- do you regard the commute costs that come with driving alone as an "untouchable" line item in your household budget?

The positive effect of this sour economy is that, when the smoke does clear, we will have an opportunity -- as consumers, capitalists and perhaps commuters -- to improve upon the choices of the past.

With the holidays now in the rear-view mirror, this is the time of year when many of us feel the weight of our financial choices. The bills start showing up from holiday expenses and we vow to spend less. In this tight economy, it’s all about stretching our dollars further, right? So, where can we flex our thrifty muscles and make the most impact? How about the daily commute?

How much does it cost the average commuter to drive to and from work each day? Cha-ching! The answer is 54 cents a mile, according to the American Automobile Association and their annual study, Your Driving Costs. That’s based on driving 15,000 miles a year. Now, take that 54 cents and multiply by 40 miles (the average daily roundtrip commute in metro Atlanta): you’re on the hook for nearly $22 each day you commute alone by car. More staggering than the cost of your daily café latte, huh? Factored into that figure are:

  • fuel
  • maintenance costs
  • tires
  • depreciation
  • car loan expenses
  • insurance
  • license and registration expenses

Most of us would shrug our shoulders and say there’s nothing we can do about it: we need wheels to get around. But it’s not about giving up your car outright. It’s about using it less. Fewer miles on your car means savings in all the areas mentioned above with the likely exception of your car note and license/registration. But if you keep it in the driveway more often, you can reduce your insurance premiums and save on gas and maintenance.

For more Georgia commuters, carpooling, riding transit, teleworking or even bicycling could become the next great financial savings strategy during this recession. Take our commute calculator for a spin and see how much you could save over the course of this year by regularly using alternatives to driving alone. If you could save $500 or even $1,000, would you try it? If you could also earn $3 a day from The Clean Air Campaign, up to $100, would that be worth it? Think differently about how you can get ahead financially – and get out of traffic – this year.