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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?

This is an ideal time to reflect on the past year and look ahead with anticipation to the future. We know what stories made headlines in 2008 as they relate to The Clean Air Campaign's mission. Here are a few themes that defined 2008 as they relate to you:

Personal Finance
$4 a gallon gas stormed onto the scene and made it financially painful to drive. None of us knew if the price would ever come back down, so many of us started to use alternatives like carpooling, riding transit, teleworking, vanpooling, even bicycling to work. The Clean Air Campaign had a breakthrough year as a result, with enrollment in our incentive programs up three times over the levels achieved in 2007.

This unprecedented demand for access to our financial incentives is a reflection of the economic challenges more commuters and employers are facing as we all come to grips with the recession. It's also the reason The Clean Air Campaign and its partner organizations have made a business decision to change the maximum payout of our $3 a day incentive that rewards solo drivers who make the switch to an alternative commute. Effective January 1, 2009 the cap for this incentive will change from $180 to $100 so that more commuters can take advantage of this popular program, which is now entering its eighth year.

Public Health
Despite tougher air quality standards, metro Atlanta experienced fewer smog days than in 2007. In all, there were 29 days when conditions either reached unhealthy levels for sensitive groups (Code Orange, 25 days)) or unhealthy levels for all (Code Red, 4 days). But if the region were still under the old standard for measurement -- as we were in 2007 -- it is likely that we would have only observed 15 smog days.

Are the actions of Georgia commuters moving the needle on air quality? Too early to tell. Although the region has been coping with a prolonged drought, the late summer brought unusually cooler temperatures and conditions that were less conducive to allow ground-level ozone to form. But the impact of gas prices meant fewer cars on the road -- and fewer tailpipes contributing to poor air quality.

Quality of Life
A study of traffic in major metro areas ranked Atlanta's as the second most painful commute, behind only Los Angeles. Not a designation to boast about, but it's easy to see why traffic is such a grind here: the average roundtrip daily commute in metro Atlanta takes 72 minutes to complete. We're giving up meaningful time we could be spending with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, advancing our interests.
One finding from this study reveals 40% of Atlanta respondents indicated they had intentionally skipped a car trip because of expected traffic. Does that sound like you?

"Father Time" is performing a somewhat symbolic gesture this New Year's Eve before the clock ticks down on 2008. One second will be added to 2008 in order to rebalance a small discrepancy with the atomic clock kept by the scientific community. We get one extra second to enjoy life. How will you spend it? Here's hoping you don't have to spend it behind the wheel stuck in traffic.

The market forces of supply and demand are slugging it out while metro Atlanta motorists watch the fuel gauge with trepidation. The fuel shortage brought on by Hurricane Ike more than two weeks ago is squeezing commuters and employers alike. And it may still be another two weeks before the situation improves. It's a helpless feeling as commuters wait in long lines at the pump and employers wonder if their employees will make it to work.

Fortunately, The Clean Air Campaign and its partners in the region can connect you with resources to help you cope with the fuel shortage.

For Commuters:
1. Share the ride with other commuters who live and work near you to save gas. RideSmart, the region's carpool ridematching service, can give you an instant match list of potential carpool partners. When you receive your match list, a simple phone call is all it takes to broker the deal.

2. If your job is conducive to telework, talk to your boss about working from home for a couple of weeks until the gas shortage abates. Approach it as a business continuity arrangement, so your boss understands that you're trying to keep your workload moving forward.

3. If it's available near you, ride a bus or train to and from work. Click here for links to all the major transit providers operating in the region, like the GRTA Xpress Bus, Cobb County Transit, MARTA and others.

For Employers:
1. Consider allowing your employees to shift their work schedules so they can avoid rush hour traffic and fill up. Another option would be temporarily instituting a compressed work schedule in which employees work four 10-hour days and take the fifth day off to avoid commuting.

2. Encourage your employees to brown bag their lunches to avoid driving over the lunch hour. Use the opportunity to set up a lunch and learn mini-series at your worksite and have company leadership come in and speak on topics related to your organization's mission.

3. Put your business continuity plan into effect now. If you have drafted a plan that includes a contingency for employees that are unable to travel to your worksite, use it for the next two weeks. If nothing else, the gas shortage makes a good proving ground for the effectiveness of your continuity plan.

This latest chapter in the Great Gas Crunch of 2008 underscores the importance of alternatives to driving alone and driving at all. This year's sharp increase in enrollment in The Clean Air Campaign's incentive programs (up three times over last year) -- and the spike in new employer Partners (double last year's effort) -- is a sign that changes to our driving culture can be made to stick.

So, what has this latest wrinkle done to change your commuting habits? Do you foresee the need to burn a vacation day if you can't get to work? Have any employers come up with creative solutions to keep their operations moving forward? Let us know what you're doing.


Gas prices this year have been a wild ride.

The average price of a gallon of gas in Atlanta rose 33% between January 1 and June 30. And with each painful trip to the pump, our vocabulary was enriched through phrases like "light sweet crude," "E85" and "petroleum reserves" ... and a few words that cannot be repeated here.

Certainly, crossing the $4-a-gallon threshold has motivated people to drive less. Nationwide, June marked the eighth consecutive month that the number of miles driven on our interstates declined. And from May through July, The Clean Air Campaign experienced a 1,800% spike in the number of commuters who currently drive alone who were ready to make the switch (and earn an incentive) compared to the same period last year.

But in August, the price at the pump began to retreat. The marquees at the gas stations have rolled back from $3.99 to $3.69 in the past two weeks. And while we recognize the cost of gas is still hurting our wallets, many commuters are preconditioned to feel like the recent slide in prices is providing significant relief.

How do you feel about gasoline’s wild ride? Is the latest decline causing you to change your commute behavior and drive solo again? Or are you sticking with an alternative mode? Let us know what’s different for you – or what remains the same – in the wake of lower prices at the pump.

Kevin Green

Welcome to our new blog. We’ll use this forum to address a variety of topics central to our mission of clearing the air and improving traffic; topics we hear about every day, affecting our wallets, our health and our quality of life.

Read any paper or watch any newscast and, chances are, the lead stories cover the subjects The Clean Air Campaign team works on every day: Traffic congestion is causing delays. Gas prices are eating into our budgets. Smog is affecting our health and the health of our children. Georgia’s transportation funds are shrinking while the costs of improvements continue to skyrocket.

Over the coming months, we’ll share our thoughts about how best to address these challenges. We’ll also invite some guest bloggers – employers and commuters – to contribute their thoughts and their success stories. But most importantly, we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

The first thing I’d like to hear about is something that's already on everyone’s mind – gas prices. Analysts predict that gas may hit $5 a gallon in our current economy and may even go as high as $7 a gallon within four years. While we're not there yet, we're certainly on the way. What effect is $4 a gallon gas really having on you? We know it’s making a difference to thousands of people – June was a record month for us, with more than 1,700 people signing up for our incentive program, Cash for Commuters (demand was so high we burnt up a fax machine!).

Are you making changes to your driving habits? What are you doing? If you’re not changing your ways, why not? Have you found any creative ways to improve gas mileage?

We have a few recommendations to get the best MPG possible, but we’re curious to hear more from you. Let us know. Until then, bookmark us and join the conversation. You can also connect to us on MySpace and through our new homepage poll.