Commuters, Employers Deal With Gas Prices

Accountant Paula Luft recently turned down three jobs, one of them an ideal assignment 18 miles from her home, before accepting a position 11/2 miles away.

The Arlington Heights resident can bike to work without breaking a sweat. In good weather she cycles home for lunch. “I always said, ‘If there’s a good position I’ll drive to it,’ ” she said. “But with gas prices the way they are now, it’s ridiculous. I think we need to draw a circle around where we’re willing to commute.”

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As prices climb to historic highs, Luft may be the leading edge of an era that will reorder priorities for commuters and employers alike, experts say. Forty-four percent of professionals in a recent survey said they had altered their commutes because of higher gas prices, up from 34 percent a year earlier, according to staffing firm Robert Half International. Nearly as many said they were looking for a new job closer to home as said they were driving more fuel-efficient cars or telecommuting more often.

“Only now are people starting to think about what they ought to do differently than what they’ve done before,” said University of Illinois finance professor Don Fullerton, a former U.S. Treasury Department deputy assistant secretary. “There’s lots of different choices people can make to adjust to the new higher gas price regime.”

For instance, employers can subsidize moving costs for people who want to live closer to work, he said.

So far, employers are opting for more conventional strategies: raising mileage reimbursement rates, offering telecommuting, public transit discounts, carpool assistance and gas cards, according to a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management.

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