Feeling driven not to drive

Up in the slate-gray Northeast this time of year, even the most motor-happy among us like to plot ways to stay out of the car.

E-commerce can spare a holiday shopper from that slow roll through the mall parking lot. But it has its failings. There's been a lot of confusion, for example, about the product-return policies of online stores.

Another car-free approach for consumers, phone ordering from catalogs, sometimes works. (But did anybody else notice that L.L. Bean seemed stripped of inventory this year before the 12 days of Christmas even began?)

Still, the average motorist here in Boston spends 66 hours a year mired in stop-and-go traffic, trailing Los Angeles, Washington, Seattle, and Atlanta, according to a report issued last month by the Texas Transportation Institute. The national average: 34 hours.

Americans pay a heavy price for car ownership in dollars, too. Next year it will cost $6,680 to own and run a typical mid-size car, according to Runzheimer International, a Rochester, Wis.-based consultancy.

A major reason we drive, of course: Most of still have to get to work. Daily. And in person.

Public transportation's great when it works. (I, for one, dutifully buy a monthly rail pass.) It can turn travel time into reading or laptop time. But it can also tie commuters to a timetable built around traditional work hours.

One solution: The e-version of getting to work - telecommuting. The technology's been available for years. A growing number of people have managed to show it works. Now, more flex-minded companies are seeing the light.

*Reach us at work@csps.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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