With the cost of regular unleaded gasoline eclipsing $4 a gallon, some cities and counties are offering employees four-day workweek schedules to reduce fuel consumption. Generally, under the arrangement, employees work an extra two hours each day and take one day off, saving 20 percent on commuting costs and enjoying a long weekend. Local officials that are testing the new schedules are evaluating the effects on customer service, workplace safety and general productivity.

In June, the Avondale, Ariz., city council launched a “Green Friday” pilot program that will run through September. The city's Retention and Recruitment Committee created the program as an alternative work schedule for employees while extending customer service hours to residents. Under the program, city hall opens one hour early and closes one hour late Monday through Thursday, and is closed on Friday. Other city functions, such as the library, senior center and emergency services are not affected by the change. Along with removing 150 cars from commuter traffic on Fridays, the city expects to save $10,000 in janitorial services during the program.

One month into the program, Community Relations Director Pia Simeri says the new hours have been well received by employees and residents. And, the city is being flexible with employees who need to pick up their children from daycare before 6 p.m. by allowing them to take shorter lunch breaks. Each department is working out their schedules within the new 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. workday, and the city will be following up with an employee and resident survey at the end of program.

In July, Berks County, Pa., commissioners voted to offer employees an optional four-day workweek through Labor Day, and the choice has become very popular. While county officials hope the change will have a positive environmental effect, Commissioner Christian Leinbach says the pilot program was created in response to the high price of gasoline. “We needed to do something that was simply good for employees,” he says. “An argument for giving Mondays or Fridays off is that people are most efficient in the days leading up to a vacation, and this plan actually creates the mentality of [having] a weekly vacation.”

Birmingham, Ala.'s move to a four-day workweek on July 1 has shown early indications of increasing productivity, says April Odom, director of communications for the Mayor's Office of Public Information. “[Employees] are here before the public hours begin,” she says. “This gives them time without distraction to catch up on tasks that are harder to do when answering phones and helping citizens.”

The new schedule does not change the hours the city is open to the public because employees are rotating off days. “Some employees will be off on Mondays, some on Fridays. We will have less staff here, but the hours will remain the same,” Odom says, adding that roughly 2,400 employees have signed on to the program, and can choose whether they want Mondays or Fridays off or opt out if the plan altogether.

For the second consecutive summer, the Walworth County, Wis., Highway Department has adopted a 10-hour, four-day workweek through Labor Day. By closing shop on Fridays, Highway Superintendent Mark Mullikin says his department saved more than $53,000 in mobilization and overtime costs over the 12-week period last year.

However, County Administrator Dave Bretl says asking other county departments to put in 10-hour days can create safety hazards when physical and mental challenges cause attention spans to wane. He also questions if closing doors for one day each week will save much gas. “There certainly has been interest expressed by other administrative departments, but we need to do more evaluation,” he says. “I suspect this is a topic that will get a whole lot more attention.”

Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.