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Cleaner commutes can save businesses money

By Maria José Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

By carpooling and telecommuting for the betterment of the environment, employers and employees will literally be able to see green, top Clean Air Campaign officials told members of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Businesses and workers can save money by partnering with The Clean Air Campaign, according to Hannah Bowles, employer program manager for the organization, Mike Williams, director of programs and employer services for the group, and Brian Carr, the communications director.

The theme of the discusssion during the Chamber's Early Bird Breakfast at Sun Trust Bank, was: "Commute Alternatives Equal Tax Incentives for Your Business."

"This is a great thing for companies to do right now," said Williams. "It's easy, because The Clean Air Campaign partners with you, and provides you with everything you need. All of our services are free."

Businesses and organizations also have options to economize, by taking advantage of two tax incentive opportunities, accordinbg to Carr. The Commuter Choice Tax Benefits program is managed through the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. It allows employers to submit forms, with evidence that their business or organization contributed financially to clean commuting, and be [compensated] for the deed. This includes public transit and van pooling costs. The program is available nationwide, Carr said.

The second tax incentive opportunity is the Telework Tax Credit, he said. A business can apply for the tax credit, and receive up to $20,000 to formalize, or implement a telework program, which will allow employees to work from home. The Telework Tax Credit was passed by Georgia legislators, and is only available in the state. There is a total of $2.5 million available for employers, and in order to receive tax credit, businesses and organizations must submit forms between Sept. 1, and Oct. 31, for the 2010 tax year.

Employees can also take advantage of carpools, vanpools, teleworking, bicycling, walking, or using the public transit system, and earn $3 a day, with a limit of $100 over a 90-day period, said Williams.

In addition, carpools of three or more people, who log an adequate quantity of trips each month, can earn $40 or $60 gas cards. The Clean Air Campaign also provides carpoolers with random $25 prizes each month.

Despite the apparent benefits, some businesses have shown hesitancy in joining the programs, according to Bowles. "Many businesses are interested in going green, but because of the recession, and everything going on, we have to take that into account," she said.

According to Williams, motorists release a pound of pollution for each mile that is driven, and for the average metro driver, the distance between home and employment is nearly 40 miles.

If employees start to carpool next week, Williams said, they will "start to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and save money."

Georgia is the asthma capital of the world, and it often fails to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air quality standards, he said.

"These issues have lingered for at least a couple of decades," added Carr. "[Georgia] has a challenge meeting those standards, because they are, every so often, being made more stringent."