The commuter’s lament
Traffic-plagued communities nationwide are embracing alternatives to frustrating employee commutes. The trend includes state and local governments, where officials are coordinating commute alternative programs and implementing such programs for their employees.
In Atlanta, where traffic congestion is legendary, a new initiative in conjunction with Georgia’s Clean Air Campaign seeks to lessen the burden for state government employees. Kicking off Georgia’s CommuteSmart program in September, Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed that state agencies implement at least one commute alternative program for employees, whether flexible work hours, teleworking, four-day work weeks or a carpool and transit program.
Georgia’s 62,000 state employees spend an estimated 340,000 hours a week commuting on crowded roads. About 9,300 of those employees commute to the state’s Capitol Hill complex at the center of Atlanta’s busiest and most strategic thoroughfares.
In August, voters rejected an extra one-cent sales tax targeted to transportation improvements in metro Atlanta. That means little relief is in sight to improve the city’s traffic situation — short of putting fewer people on the road.
For Georgia’s state employees, the CommuteSmart program seeks to enhance employees’ productivity and efficiency by minimizing their time spent sitting in traffic, while also helping to relieve the overall traffic congestion problem. “The governor has asked agencies to implement the program when and where it makes sense,” says Ben Hames, Gov. Deal’s deputy chief operating officer.
Hames says it will take careful planning to implement the program with a leaner state workforce after years of a difficult budget environment. He says each state department must balance the CommuteSmart initiative with the need to meet its ongoing responsibilities.
Employees in the governor’s office in downtown Atlanta have already dabbled with some CommuteSmart options, such as a compressed work week and flex time. “Our chief of staff wants us to lead state employees and set an example for the corporate community in Atlanta,” Hames says. He says other state offices, with a different employee mix, may be able to embrace other commuter alternatives.
A commuter option is in place in the District of Columbia, which allows District employees to telecommute. A guide spells out requirements for employee telecommuting, which is limited to two days per week unless otherwise approved. District employees who work from home must also provide a telecommuting site that is “free from interruptions, provides the necessary level of security and protection for agency property, and is conducive to productive work,” according to the District’s guide.
Another telework program in Rockville, Md.,gives city workersa respite from long commutes one or two days a week. The program peaked in 2003 at about 18.5 percent of employees, and has fluctuated since then.
Across the country, Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas, participates in a commuter alternative program called Club Ride, provided by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. The program includes ridematching for carpools and vanpool partners, a free “guaranteed ride home” in case of an emergency, and up to 15 percent transit pass discounts.
Other programs include CommuteSmart in Birmingham, Ala., and the MassRIDES program provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The Sustainable Cities Institute of the National League of Cities collects information on such programs at its web site [sustainablecitiesinstitute.org].
In Georgia, the state’s Clean Air Campaign helps both public and private employers implement commute options programs, including the state government’s CommuteSmart program. Hames, the governor’s aide, says a yearly survey beginning next September will provide feedback on the program. “This is a plus for employee retention and satisfaction and job performance, and it just gives our leadership more tools to use.”
Larry Anderson is a Georgia-based freelance writer.