Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Ohio ranks among top three in drivers who commute alone

By Bob Johnson
The Associated Press

        MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Census figures released Monday show that Alabama leads the nation in the number of people who drive to work by themselves.

        The rest of the top five were Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire and Kansas, according to a census survey last year of 700,000 households in 1,203 counties nationwide. The supplementary survey also covers topics such as income and poverty, educational attainment and fertility.

        About 1.6 million residents — or 84.6 percent of Alabama workers 16 and older — drive alone to and from their jobs, the survey found. Only 11 percent carpooled.

        Fewer than 1 percent use public transportation. Others walk to work or get to the office by motorcycle, bicycle and taxi.

        “They like the independence the automobile provides,” said Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for AAA's Alabama chapter. “They are able to smoke. They are able to eat in the car. They are able to listen to their own kind of music.”

        Michigan came in second, with 83.7 percent, just ahead of Ohio.

        “People need the flexibility of being in their own car,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. “We've reached the point where having the freedom that that provides is officially part of the American dream.”

        However, critics say the government isn't doing enough to promote alternative forms of transportation.

        “Rolling out more pavement ... is a cookie-cutter method of reducing congestion, and the only thing it does is create new sprawl,” said Kelly Thayer of the Michigan Land Use Institute advocacy group.

        The census figures do not bode well for efforts to keep ozone levels within federal standards, said Tom Cosby, chief operating officer of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce.

        He said Alabama is one of the few states that do not allow gas tax money to be used for mass transportation, which would get some commuters off the road.

        Carrie Kurlander, a spokeswoman for Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, said the governor is studying ways to encourage carpooling and other alternative ways of getting to work.

        She said they include the possibility of light-rail systems to connect Alabama cities and adding commuter lanes to interstates around major cities.

        The state Department of Transportation already maintains “park and ride” areas along Interstate 65 around Birmingham, while the city's Regional Planning Commission is offering incentives, like $30 worth of free gas, to workers who agree to carpool. The program also operates 11 vans that take people to work in the Birmingham area.

        Some companies are coming up with their own ways to promote carpooling.

        The Mercedes-Benz production facility in Vance provides two vans for employees, said spokesman Austin Dare. The workers pay only for the gas.

        “It helps save wear and tear on their vehicles,” Mr. Dare said.


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