Area workers try to travel better: Federal program offers help, incentives to commuters, employers

Five days a week, workers from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Department of Transportation can be seen piling into a

white, 15-passenger van. Participants in CommuteSmart, the Shelby County residents meet at a local church and vanpool to share gas cost and driving responsibility for the trek to their Montgomery offices, which takes more than an hour each way.

&8220;It&8217;s a lot cheaper for us to split the cost of fueling and renting that van than for me to pay for gas and maintenance on my own car,&8221; said Adam Edwards, an ADEM employee and Alabaster resident. Edwards, who has participated in the vanpool since October 2005, said his largest monthly commute bill (which includes gas and van rental) has been $115.

CommuteSmart, a program of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, helps coordinate Edwards&8217; vanpool as well as other options for commuters and their employers. Started in 1999, it offers services such as an online ridematch and works with companies to develop commuter option plans and incentive programs.

&8220;For commuters it&8217;s easy because they can save money,&8221; said Sean Saffle, project manager for CommuteSmart.

The benefit then passes onto employers in the way of staff retention, improved attitudes and increased punctuality, he said, as riding together lessens the burden of commuting and creates accountability to be on time for the sake of the carpool.

Participating Shelby County businesses include Alabama Power, Sun Gard and Infinity Insurance, but Saffle said it&8217;s easy to get involved as a commuter.

&8220;The rideshare database will match you up with someone that lives within 5 miles of you and works within a mile,&8221; Saffle said. &8220;It&8217;s almost silly not to do it.&8221;

Saffle located nearly 400 Shelby County residents currently in the database with most of those coming from the Alabaster area