How to Ease Cost of Commuting

filed under: Recession
The Wall Street Journal (May 29) -- A handful of small towns and community colleges are switching to four-day workweeks in an effort to help employees cope with the rising gasoline prices, and could soon be joined by some larger local governments.

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Michigan's Oakland County and New York's Suffolk County are both considering putting public employees on four-day workweeks. In Oklahoma, a resolution has been introduced in the state house of representatives recommending all state and local public employers move to a shortened week to provide relief from the cost of commuting.
"The things I've been reading say this is not a temporary hike in gas as we've seen in the months of the past," said L. Brooks Patterson, county executive for Oakland County, a wealthy area north of Detroit. "I don't think it stops at $4.20. I think it can easily be $5 or $6 a gallon."
Mr. Patterson is seeking approval from the county's Board of Commissioners to install a four-day, 10-hour workweek that would remain in place for "the foreseeable" future. As many as 1,500 of the county's 4,000 employees could end up working four 10-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour days.
Assuming gas stays at $4 a gallon and workers use two gallons for each round trip to work, Mr. Patterson estimated the savings from having 800 workers commuting only four days a week could save them a total of about $300,000 over the course of a year.
On New York's Long Island, Suffolk County executive Steve Levy said he's also pushing for a shorter workweek, although public offices will remain open five days a week. "We won't be shutting down buildings because we still have to provide services," he said. "But this would provide our employees a lot of flexibility."
Gasoline prices are pushing Americans to consider significant changes to the way they live and work. In the past few years, as gasoline prices rose past $2 and then $3 a gallon, many people have switched to smaller cars and cut down on driving somewhat.

Going Broke

Are We in a Recession?
Technically, that's for the National Bureau of Economic Research to decide. But this certainly feels like one.

The rise to $4 a gallon is prompting further steps. In March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles than in March 2007, according to the Federal Highway Administration. It was the first time March travel on public roads declined since 1979, and was the sharpest monthly drop the agency has recorded.
Some corporations are trying to help employees keep fuel costs down. Hewlett-Packard Co. is quadrupling its videoconferencing room by next year, hoping to eliminate about 20,000 employee plane trips annually, said Vyomesh Joshi, who heads the Palo Alto, Calif., tech giant's printing division. In recent weeks, the company has also sent newsletters to employees reminding them that company shuttles, car pools and bicycles are good ways to save gas money.
Google Inc. said it has seen an uptick in the number of employees using its van service, which travels as far as 60 miles to ferry commuters, says spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger. The company runs more than 150 shuttles a day for about 1,200 riders. But it's public employers who are moving to four-day weeks. At LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, some 400 professional employees such as librarians and those handling information technology can opt to reduce their commuting time starting Monday. Dale Lunsford, university president, said controlling the costs of food and other economic factors are out of his hand. "But I think we can do something to help the price of gas," Mr. Lunsford said.
Meridian Community College in Meridian, Miss., has decided to cut the summer class schedule from five to four days. Starting next week, many daytime students will attend classes either on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursday, said Scott Elliott, the college's president.
Last month, Seven Fields, Pa., a town of about 2,000 just north of Pittsburgh, approved a resolution to change the summer workweek for the public-works department, which employs four full-time workers, from five days to a four-day, 10-hour schedule.
Thomas B. Smith, the municipality's borough manager, said the workers will alternate their third day off to ensure that services don't suffer.
Christopher Conkey in Washington contributed to this article.
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2008-07-21 15:51:34
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