Lure of The Commute

July 19, 1991

For all intents and purposes, the United States has no energy policy, and to most people the problem -- and the solution -- is self-evident: Develop alternative energy sources and efficient mass transportation. But President Bush, a Texas oil man, comes at the issue from an odd perspective. His approach to the energy problem has been simply: Drill more wells and pump more oil.

One obvious result is traffic-choked highways dotted with stress and blaring car horns. The less perceptible but more threatening result is environmental degradation -- increased use of automobiles and gasoline not only pollute the air but also contribute to the erosion of the fragile ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the sun's harmful ultra-violet rays. No conceivable purpose is served when 100,000 people drive 100,000 cars to work in cities across America. But with few satisfactory alternatives most people eventually, albeit grudgingly, succumb to The Commute.

Now comes an innovative plan from Anne Arundel County and 30 businesses that ring BWI Airport: Employees who car pool or take the bus to work will be entitled to free taxi service or a subsidized car rental if an emergency arises during the day that requires they leave work. The $60,000 to implement the plan for a year comes from a U.S Department of Transportation grant. Sponsors are hopeful that the assurance of not being stranded at the office if a child gets sick or a water pipe breaks at home will be enough to prod employees to find less expensive and more efficient ways to get to and from work.

The Arundel plan is no substitute for a comprehensive, national policy. But it is an admirable stab at getting a handle on a growing problem. If similar encouragement were provided by every jurisdiction in the state, Maryland could alleviate much of its traffic crunch -- and help preserve the planet in the bargain.

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