Do you CommuteSmart?


Parked in the far lot at the Alabaster Lowe's, sits a large white van with CommuteSmart written on the side. But what is it doing there? And what exactly is CommuteSmart? According to Brian Atkinson, business outreach manager for CommuteSmart, CommuteSmart is a solution to the problem of wasting away while stuck in traffic. "The average commuter from Alabaster to downtown Birmingham drives about forty-five miles round-trip, every day," shared Atkinson. From figures provided by Atkinson, the average savings, for a commuter who finds a way to share a ride, is about $340 per month - or more than $4,000 per year.

But it is not just about money. "Different people use the program for different reasons," explained Atkinson. "Many of our users join for the cash and gift cards program. Others simply realize the substantial amount of money they save by carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling, and teleworking. Still others join just to have someone to pass the time with
while they travel back and forth to work. It helps reduce stress," he shared.

Many people share a ride without joining the CommuteSmart program, but if they were to join, there would be some excellent incentives to be gained. "For each day a commuter chooses an alternative commute option, and logs that commute on our website, they receive $1 per day, up to $70, during the first ninety days. After the initial period, they can continue to log their alternative commutes to receive $25 gift cards for gas, groceries, and other items," shared Atkinson. The benefits do not end with just financial gain. "Logging also makes the commuter eligible for up to five emergency rides home per year, in which CommuteSmart will take the commuter back to their starting point at no cost to them for things such as illness, a sick child, or unscheduled overtime," he stated.

CommuteSmart was officially established at the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, in 1999, with the mission to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. "To meet these goals," shared Atkinson, "the program has evolved to include management of vanpools, rideshare matching for carpools, administering an emergency ride home program, supporting public transit, bicycle and walking commuters, assist businesses in developing transportation demand management plans, and recently studying the feasibility of a bikeshare program (stay tuned for results on bikeshare)."
The need for this program is in the air, according to Atkinson. "Our area consistently ranks among the worst in terms of air pollution," he explained. This pollution is a leading source of respiratory harm, increased cardiovascular issues, and premature death. And the biggest cause of all the pollution? Cars. And while health is a big driving force, economics play a big part as well. "According to an annual study from Texas A&M," shared Atkinson, "traffic congestion has cost our area over $2.2 billion in the past five years in lost time and excess fuel costs alone. By encouraging better commuter choices, CommuteSmart helps to reduce vehicle miles travelled, which in turn improves air quality, reduces traffic congestion, and promotes economic efficiency."

So how is Alabaster doing sharing rides? According to Atkinson's numbers, fairly well. "Of the roughly 15,600 Alabaster commuters, slightly more than one in ten get to work by car or vanpool," he gladly shared. And while many citizens of Alabaster rideshare, many more do not. "The bad news is that the percentage of commuters who drive alone in their vehicle to workplaces from Alabaster is near the bottom third of the forty-eight municipalities tracked in the CommuteSmart program area," shared Atkinson. Roughly 85.6% of all Alabaster commuters drive alone, which is higher than Shelby County's 84.5% and Alabama's 84.3% averages. To register for the service visit www.CommuteSmart.org or call 205-264-8455.

via Alabaster Connection