Group tallies commuting costs

Newly available telework resources include a how-to guide from Pointsec and a free VPN service from Google

As gas prices continue to hover in the unpopularly high range, an Alexandria, Va.-based group has come out with an estimate of just how much we're spending these days to drive to work.

Results of a study unveiled last week show federal government workers spend $19 million commuting to and from work every business day. The total U.S. white-collar workforce spends more than $355.8 million to commute each day, according to telework advocacy group Telework Exchange.

Those daily commuting costs spiked $5.7 million for federal workers and nearly $106 million for the white-collar workforce between April and September of this year, according to Telework Exchange's study, titled ''Fuel Smart Economy: It's No Gas.'' A key factor in the spike is gas prices: East Coast gas prices jumped from an average of $2.14 per gallon in April to $3.05 per gallon in September. With rising gas prices, total per-day fuel costs have jumped more than 42%, according to Telework Exchange.

In its new study, the Telework Exchange calculates that federal government employees and the white-collar workforce use 31.1 million and 583.3 million gallons of gas, respectively, commuting five days a week. If all these people were to telework two days each week, they could significantly reduce gas consumption - by 12.4 million gallons per week for federal employees and 233.3 million gallons per week for white-collar U.S. workers.

The Telework Exchange was launched by a group of public and private executives in April and is devoted to raising telework awareness and adoption in the federal government. The online community offers information on how federal workers can become telecommuters, as well as calculators that tally the cost of commuting and its environmental impact.

Seeing these hard numbers prompted me to calculate how much I'm saving by working from home fulltime. When I lived in Massachusetts and commuted every workday to Network World's corporate office, I traveled 15 miles each day - a short commute compared to many of my coworkers. My 10-year-old car gets about 21 miles to the gallon in non-highway driving, according to a U.S. Department of Energy site.

With gas at about $3 per gallon, that means I'm now saving almost $11 per week by working from home. In the year since I became a fulltime teleworker, I've probably avoided a few hundred dollars in fuel costs, accounting for fluctuating gas prices. Not bad.

I've seen more and more stats from resources like the Telework Exchange's study that encourage teleworking. The savings are compelling, but management and technology obstacles remain. Of course, there's no shortage of vendors out there ready to help companies overcome their tech-related telework hurdles.

For example, Pointsec earlier this month published a guide aimed at helping government agencies set up a secure telework program. In it the security vendor outlines agency adoption requirements and describes typical technologies used for telework and security applications.  

Remote access technology products, too, continue to multiple. Most recently, work leaked out that Google is planning to expand its already wide swath of Web offerings with the addition of VPN software.

Google is currently beta testing the software, called Google Secure Access, which allows Google WiFi users to access a secure wireless network connection. Google Secure Access connects to the vendor's VPN server and encrypts Internet traffic.

Why would Google get into the VPN business? The reason for the new software is a lack of secure wireless networks, according to Google. "One of our engineers recognized that secure Wi-Fi was virtually non-existent at most locations. As a result, he used his 20% project time to begin an initiative to offer users more secure Wi-Fi access. Google Secure Access is the result of this endeavor," Google states on its Web site.

To date Google Secure Access is free and can be downloaded at certain Google WiFi locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company says it will expand the Google WiFi network - but so far hasn't revealed by how much.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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