Soaring Fuel Costs and Your Job: Is Your Career Running Out of Gas?

By Paula Santonocito

Empty gas guageThe high cost of commuting has many people questioning their jobs, and even their career paths. Are you one of them?

Feeling the Squeeze

Pain at the pump isn’t an illusion. In the United States last month, the average price for a gallon of regular gas was more than $4.00. And that was the bottom-of-the-barrel price; if your vehicle requires premium, you’ll pay $.40 or more per gallon. Prices are highest in Alaska, Hawaii, and California, but it’s safe to say these days no one is getting a bargain.

And it’s not only the cost of a filling up that’s got Americans fed up. Even people who rely on public transportation to get to work are faced with more costly commutes. Ironically, increased ridership has led some mass transit systems to implement or consider fare increases.

Meanwhile, people who travel for business have also been hit hard, as airlines raise ticket prices, charge for luggage, and eliminate in-flight services in an effort to offset record-high fuel costs. Airlines are also cutting flight schedules, which results in fewer options for business travelers, who may then have to add to trip costs with additional overnight stays.

It’s enough to make people throw up their hands and say, “Oy,” as in oil, while they consider alternatives.

But what are those alternatives?

Your Employer Is a Resource

You may have more options than you think. Start by checking with your company to find out what kind of help might be available.

Some employers offer assistance in the form of commuter subsidies and/or van pools.

Still other employers have traded in the traditional five-day workweek for a condensed, fuel-efficient alternative: four 10-hour workdays. The practice is catching on among state and local municipalities, with the state of Utah, the city of Birmingham Ala., and several towns in Connecticut among those leading the way.

Other employers, meanwhile, allow telecommuting, at least on a part-time basis. With an eye toward less travel, companies are likewise turning to online meetings and teleconferencing.

To encourage a healthier lifestyle, while addressing environmental issues and commuter costs, some companies have installed bike racks. Bicycling to work, though not common in every industry, is gaining in popularity.

Finding What Fits

What your company provides will allow you to weigh your options. But so too will personal obligations and preferences.

A single mother, for example, may not have the option of public transportation if commuter schedules conflict with childcare arrangements. Similarly, bicycling to work may not work if you have to transport a child to and from daycare.

Carpooling can be great, whether offered by your company or initiated by friends and coworkers. However, be sure you have a clear understanding of what’s required before you commit to this kind of arrangement.

One woman expressed surprise when, after a week’s vacation, the people with whom she carpooled expected her to contribute gas money for the week she was away. What’s worse, she knew her travel buddies viewed her as cheap.

Other Options

What happens if you’ve exhausted all possibilities, and you can’t find relief from the high-cost of commuting?

It may be time to take an honest look at your job, and even your career, particularly if you’re required to absorb exorbitant transportation expenses. Sales jobs with no or low travel reimbursement, for example, may no longer add up.

By the same token, it’s worth recognizing that a high-paying job with a long commute no longer pays as well. A job closer to home that pays less may net you more, in terms of money–not to mention that other precious commodity, time.

If considering a job change, find out if a potential employer offers commuter benefits, a condensed workweek, or telecommuting.

For the self-employed, similar considerations apply. Cultivating local clients and business associates, and relying more on technology instead of travel for meetings can make a difference.

Finally, regardless of your employment circumstances, you’ll want to take advantage of what little assistance the government offers. As of July 1, 2008, the income tax deduction for business use of your vehicle is 58.5 cents per mile, up from 50.5 cents per mile for the first half of the year.

The tax deduction might not mean much to your bottom line, but by accounting for your commute when assessing your job and your career, you’ll be on the road to finding solutions that can make an impact.

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