Commute option incentive begins in May, as report shows metro Atlanta’s air quality worsens

Editor’s note: The first paragraph of this story has been updated to distinguish between the commute program and the report from the American Lung Association.

By David Pendered

A new incentive program intended to get cars off the road for a week is slated to begin in mid-May. This program comes on the heels of a national report by the American Lung Association that shows metro Atlanta ranks among the 25 most polluted cities; the ALA report also takes aim at some of the Trump administration’s environmental policies.

clear the deck challenge

The Clear the Deck Challenge includes marketing materials that features cheerful-looking commuters as they arrive together at an employment center. Credit: gacommuteoptions.com

The premise behind the Clear the Deck Challenge is to provide an incentive to encourage commuters to use one of their options to driving to work alone in a vehicle. Once folks experience the alternative, some might continue to commute that way, if only periodically.

The incentive program is sponsored by Georgia Commute Options, a program managed by the Atlanta Regional Commission. It will open just after the start of smog season, which runs from May 1 through Sept. 30 in metro Atlanta.

From May 14 through May 18, property managers and employers are to encourage employers to use cleaner commute options, such as teleworking, carpooling, vanpooling, riding transit or even walking or riding a bicycle to work.

Even one day a week counts toward the program and the incentives.

“This inaugural Clear the Deck Challenge is a great opportunity for employers to encourage their employees to try a different commute option, rather than driving alone to work and parking their vehicle that will sit in one space all day long,” Malika Reed Wilkins, Georgia Commute Options’ managing director, said in a statement.

“By trying transit, starting a carpool or even teleworking during this week, commuters can skip their stressful commute and save money, boost work productivity and improve air quality,” she said.

The array of incentives includes:

  • health risks, air pollution

    Air pollution in the form of ozone and particle pollution present 10 risk factors to human health, according the the American Lung Association. Credit: 2018 State of the Air

    “Gimme Five: New program participants can earn $5 a day — up to $150 — for trying a new commute option other than driving alone.

  • “$25 Prizes: Existing clean commuters are entered to win monthly $25 prizes for logging their commutes.
  • “Monthly Gas Card: Carpools with three or more riders can earn monthly gas cards.
  • “Vanpool $50 Referral: Individuals can receive $50 for referring a new vanpool rider after that new rider has completed three consecutive months on a vanpool.
  • “Guaranteed Ride Home: Program participants are promised a guaranteed ride home when unexpected events occur and are approved. Participants can receive up to five free rides each year, by taxi or rental car, to their home or car in case of emergency.”

The 2018 State of the Air report takes specific aim at the Trump administration for taking steps the lung association says would weaken the Clean Air Act:

  • “Our nation has made significant strides in cleaning up our air, as shown by this report over the past 19 years. Stopping or retreating cannot be an option. Our nation’s historic legal commitment to protect the health of millions of Americans requires more work to reduce the burden of air pollution. Cleaning up air pollution requires a strong and coordinated effort on the part of our federal and state leaders.
  • Atlanta smog, 2017

    The air quality in metro Atlanta has reversed gains recorded in recent years, according to an annual air quality report by the American Lung Association. Credit: weathernationtv.com

    “Unfortunately, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, supported by the President, has taken many steps to roll back or create loopholes in many of the protections in place under the Clean Air Act in the past year. Members of Congress, governors and state leaders all have a key role to play, and while some are supportive, others are not.”

The report then outlines what it calls six threats to the nation’s air quality.

Metro Atlanta ranks 23rd in the nation when it comes to high levels of ozone. Often called ground level ozone, it is created when pollutants such as tail-pipe exhaust mix and create chemical reactions that result in breathing difficulties for at-risk individuals.

Metro Atlanta ranks 22nd in the nation for year-round particle pollution. Particle pollution is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are no larger than a tenth of a strand of human hair. Exhaust from diesel trucks is a particle pollutant.

Note to readers: Information about joining the Clear the Deck Challenge is available at this website.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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