Shared commutes are the way to go More find car pools ease traffic, pollution


It only took two weeks of highway madness for Vince Monico to realize that driving from his Baltimore County home to his government job in downtown Washington drained his wallet, his nerves and his car's life span.

"I said, 'Uh-uh, I'm not doing this,' " said Monico, 44. He hooked up with a van pool and has commuted that way for the past 11 years to his job as a computer specialist with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Monico moved to Eldersburg in 1985, eventually leased a van and started his own van pool with 12 other Washington commuters from the area. Five riders are assigned to drive once per week.

"You can sleep four days a week. It's not too hard on anybody," he said. "It's definitely less money, and you never have to worry about parking."

Darlene DeMario, the county's new commuter transportation coordinator, wants to get more commuters out of their personal vehicles and into arrangements similar to Monico's van pool. She also will assist the larger county employers with plans to reduce employees' vehicle trips to work.

The federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 require employers with 100 or more employees in metropolitan areas where air pollution exceeds standards -- including Baltimore -- to develop plans increasing the number of occupants per vehicle commuting to work. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution.

The act applies to government and other institutions as well as private business. Carroll has about 25 employers with 100 or more workers.

Officials at several such companies said they were aware of the requirements, but hadn't begun to develop plans.

Jos. A. Bank Clothiers has a head start -- its employees began sharing rides last year when the company moved its headquarters from Owings Mills to its distribution center in Hampstead.

A group of 40 to 50 employees who live in Baltimore organized a bus to take them to and from the plant, which employs 350, said Joseph E. Timmins, vice president of human resources.

The Maryland Department of the Environment must submit regulations to the federal Environmental Protection Agency by Nov. 15, outlining how it will administer the act. Employers will have two years to devise plans and another two years to implement them. The state could lose federal money if violations are cited.

DeMario, hired with a renewable $50,000 federal grant, is starting the project with county government, which has nearly 700 employees. She will survey employees later this month to determine commuting patterns, work hours and preferences. Then she will try to market alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips.

Ride sharing is only one of several options to reduce vehicle trips for the employers. Others include instituting flexible hours, including four-day work weeks; running employer-operated van shuttles; creating bicycle paths; and telecommuting, for those employees who could work from home.

"We're not going to get all of the people. Some won't even consider it, but that's OK," said DeMario. "We're not trying to change the entire commuting pattern in Carroll County, but just suggest changes. I don't think Big Brother is watching at this point."

A 1990 consultant's public transportation study prepared for the county found that Carroll households owned an average of 2.18 vehicles, the highest of any Baltimore-area jurisdiction. The high vehicle ownership rate is reflected in the "low use of alternatives to the private auto for regional work trips," the study says.

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