Commuter Challenge returns 

Program nudges people onto environmentally-friendly transportation

Ladies and gentleman, stop your engines.

Last year 65 businesses and 901 employees squared off in Whistler’s first two-week Commuter Challenge, walking, biking, busing and carpooling to work to earn points for themselves and their organizations over two weeks in September.

The program was created to nudge people into more environmentally-friendly modes of transit and create more awareness of the social, economic and environmental issues of transportation through a friendly contest. The businesses with the most participation and accumulated points at the end of the two-week period would receive recognition from the Transportation Advisory Group, and the employees that amassed more than 40 points were eligible to win a season’s pass from Whistler-Blackcomb.

The program is back again, and organizers are hoping it will be even bigger this year. Kits were mailed out this week to participating businesses for this year’s commuter challenge, which will run from International Car Free Day on Sept. 17 to International Walk To School Day on Sept. 30.

"It’s an awareness thing," says Emma DalSanto, the Traffic Demand Co-ordinator for the RMOW. "The idea is to get people thinking about the way they get from place to place. We tend to fall into habits, and do things because we got used to doing them, not because it’s easier or better, but just because. Driving’s like that."

According to a survey of participants in last year’s Commuter Challenge, the number of people who traditionally drive alone to work each day dropped off significantly during the competition. Even after the competition was over, the majority continued to bike, bus and carpool said DalSanto, with a small number of participants returning to old habits.

The number of single drivers increased again during a February follow-up survey, but the overall number of people commuting using single passenger vehicles was still down from pre-Commuter Challenge levels.

"Even though the weather is not so good at that time of year and you traditionally see more drivers on the road in that month, there were still more of the original people driving before the Challenge than in February," said DalSanto. "The studies have been interesting for us because now there’s no question that programs like this can help people to change their habits."

The Commuter Challenge is a national program that takes place across the country on International Car Free Day. Feeling that one day was too short to make an impact on people, Whistler extended the program to two weeks.

So far we are still the only community with a two-week program, although Vancouver universities have expressed an interest in the longer program.

This year’s Commuter Challenge will work the same as last year, with businesses competing in different categories according to their size.

Each participating employee gets four points every time they commute to work and home by foot, inline skates, bicycle, bus, doubling on a motorcycle, or tripling up in a car or van pool, with a maximum of eight points per day. Employees also get two points for a two-person car pool or riding a motorcycle. Single occupancy vehicles don’t get any points.

Participants that get 80 points or more over the two-week period will be eligible to win a Whistler-Blackcomb seasons pass or an annual family pass to Meadow Park Sports Centre. All participants will be eligible to win free transit with Whistler and Valley Express for one year.

The top companies in each category will receive plaques for participation and points.

If you participated last year and haven’t received your kit, or are interested in participating this year, contact Kristina Swerhun, Traffic Demand Management Workplace Co-ordinator at 604-935-8197 until Aug. 31 and 604-935-8204 after Sept. 1, or write thewhistlerway@whistler.ca. Pre-registration is open until Sept. 15, although you can still register at the official launch on Sept. 17. The first people to sign up will be able to win one of 400 one-week passes for WAVE.

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