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There’s a lot going on right now in the world of mass transit, and sadly, it’s looking bleak. In metro Atlanta, C-TRAN’s service ended last week, which affected 8,500 commuters, many of whom depend on public transportation. More cuts are looming for MARTA when the calendar clicks over to the new fiscal year on July 1, 2010. However, we’re not alone. Mass transit agencies across the country are facing budget crises. According to the American Public Transportation Association, eight out of 10 bus and subway agencies are raising fares and cutting service or considering those actions. The timing couldn’t be worse with smog season just weeks away.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for these issues. But there is an influential group out there that needs to find its voice. When more employers in the region show state and local government how important mass transit is for their commuting employees, then perhaps transit won’t continue to be one of the first items on the chopping block when’s there’s a budget shortfall.

What do you think about the local service cuts? Tell us your ideas for how we all can work together to save mass transit in the Atlanta region.

In metro Atlanta, 84% of commuters drive alone to and from work on a maxed out road network. We’re chided as the most expensive city for commuters in the entire nation as we stew in traffic for an average of 72 minutes a day roundtrip. There’s no question we need more infrastructure, transit, sustainable funding sources and focused leadership to meet the mobility needs of a growing region. But even with new funding, it will take a decade or more to bring new projects out of the ground. What we need NOW is to make the best use of the existing options we have.

That got us thinking, “what if we could show the impact that taking cars off the road can have on traffic?” We know that on bank holidays, it’s much easier to get to work, despite the fact that only a small percentage of cars are not on the roads. If more commuters chose not to drive alone, what could that do to traffic congestion? The Clean Air Campaign and our partners came up with a neat way to express that idea visually.

We created a series of simulated traffic photos. Check them out here. Here’s how we did it: Last fall, a photographer scaled a fence on the 10th Street overpass straddling the Downtown Connector during morning rush hour to shoot a picture of typical Atlanta traffic (she nearly got arrested trying to get the perfect shot). A week later, our staff and partners met in an empty parking lot in Buckhead and set up a bunch of folding chairs:

We arranged them on the blacktop in configurations that accurately portray the number of seats in a typical carpool, vanpool and commuter bus. We sat in the chairs and modeled for the camera as the photographer snapped photos from atop a scissor lift. Then, the images were painstakingly cleaned up in PhotoShop and merged into the original traffic photo of the Downtown Connector.

The concept has become a mainstay in The Clean Air Campaign’s presentations to employers and commuters. In just a few images, we can explain what we’re trying to accomplish. The best part is that many of our colleagues and partners sat in those chairs and helped make the project possible. How much longer until the concept of these photos becomes more of a reality? That’s up to you.

When commuters sign up to take part in our financial incentives, we're rewarding their decision to try alternatives that help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. But another significant benefit to us is the information generated by each participant that helps us track clean commute activity. This information is represented in terms of: reduction in vehicle miles of travel, reduction in air pollution and savings on commute costs.

Since the first commuters began logging their daily activity in 2002 as part of the Commuter Rewards program, here's what we know:

  • 75,000 commuters have taken part in our programs, logging more than 10 million clean commute trips and saving $100 million on commute costs
  • Each day, these efforts mean 1.2 million fewer vehicle miles of travel on Georgia roads -- enough miles to circle the Earth 48 times
  • The impact of this reduction in mileage means 600 tons of pollution are kept out of the air we breathe each day -- the equivalent weight of a dozen fully-loaded 18-wheelers.

From this vantage point, it's clear that the combined efforts of legions of commuters are making a difference in air quality. But what difference can individual commuters make? When sustained over a long period of time, there are many individual commuters we've identified whose long-term efforts have kept tens of thousands of pounds of pollution out of the air we breathe. These people have been faithfully logging their clean commute activity online for years -- long after their initial financial incentives that brought them to The Clean Air Campaign have run dry.

The Clean Air Campaign and its partners have created a new program that celebrates these individuals and their dedication over the years. The Clean Air Commuter Champion program recognizes the commuters who have reached specific milestones in pollution reduction because of their dedication to use alternatives to driving alone.

In our first wave of recognition, 900 Clean Air Commuter Champions are receiving a certificate announcing their achievement for eliminating 25,000 pounds of air pollution, a special gift and coveted bragging rights that their efforts are making a difference. And because this is centered around travel to and from work, employers will also receive a letter from The Clean Air Campaign applauding the "green" efforts of their champion employees who found a better way to work.

Each of us has heard the familiar refrain, "lead by example." When you meet a Clean Air Commuter Champion who has been leading by example for a long time, be sure to give that person your heartfelt thanks and a pat on the back.

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