Companies lay down gauntlet for Commuter Challenge 

Post-challenge survey last year shows some people changed their commuter habits

Friendly competition is making this year’s Commuter Challenge a little more interesting, according to Christina Swerhun, the municipality’s traffic demand management workplace co-ordinator.

"We’ve really tried to focus on the bigger employers like hotels this year," said Swerhun. "A lot of the people are coming back who participated last year already, but if I have time I’m going to start cold-calling those companies to make sure they know about it."

Most of the hotels have agreed to take part, which Swerhun believes could push the number of participants up to more than 1,200, more than 300 more than participated in the first two-week Commuter Challenge last year.

The Commuter Challenge gets people onto alternative modes of transportation, awarding points to people who make an effort to leave their car at home, or use it for carpooling. At the end of the two weeks, the businesses with the highest percentage of participation and most points are recognized by the community. The individual participants who have amassed more than 40 points over the two weeks are entered into a draw with prizes like a season’s pass for Whistler-Blackcomb, an annual family season pass for Meadow Park Sport Centre, and a year of free transit with Whistler and Valley Express.

The few participants that get 80 points or more over the two weeks will be entered into the draw twice.

So far the Royal Bank has challenged the other financial institutions in town to a side contest.

The hotels are competing against one another and Rosemary Cook, the general manager of the Crystal Lodge, has challenged the other hotel GM’s to make a minimum of 65 points.

Even Whistler Council is getting into the act, with Gordon McKeever challenging other members of council to a contest to see who gets the most points.

"We’ve been looking for ways to get more people involved," said Swerhun, "and so far the best way has been to get businesses and individuals to challenge each other. I don’t know if that’s a Whistler thing or what, but it’s definitely working."

To help businesses to organize car and van pools, something that has worked for several local businesses, Swerhun is directing them to the Jack Bell Foundation’s RideShare program, where people can post some basic information and get paired up with other carpoolers.

As the workplace co-ordinator for the municipality’s traffic demand management program, Swerhun says that businesses are generally very co-operative, and willing to try alternatives.

Studies have shown that taking alternative forms of transportation rather than single passenger vehicles makes sense economically, environmentally and socially, said Swerhun.

At the same time, people do become dependent on their cars to the point that they don’t know what they would do without them. The Commuter Challenge, which was originally a one-day event, was extended to two weeks to give car owners a better idea of how much money they could save, and get used to the idea of car pooling, biking or walking to work, or carpooling.

The program is also designed to change corporate culture, getting businesses to consider the idea of subsidizing transit instead of paying for parking stalls.

A survey of last year’s participants showed that a number of people continued to take alternative forms of transportation after the two weeks was over, even though many returned to their cars.

While the survey of just ver 120 participants is by no means scientific, said Swerhun, it does show that the Commuter Challenge can work.

According to the survey, 52 per cent of Commuter Challenge participants drove alone before the program got underway on Sept. 19. During the Commuter Challenge, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 2, that number dropped to 12 per cent.

A few weeks later, the number of single drivers rose again to 23 per cent. It rose again in February of 2002 to 36 per cent, but remained below the earlier high of 52 per cent.

"Some of those drivers were obviously keeners because they took the time to fill out the survey, but even so a significant number of them did change their patterns," said Swehun.

Although locals tend to blame visitors for the large number of cars on the roads in Whistler, a municipal study found that more than 50 per cent of the greenhouse gases caused by transportation in the corridor are produced by local vehicles.

"This is an opportunity to lead by example," said Swerhun. "When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. If visitors see us leaving our cars at home and riding our bikes or whatever, maybe they’ll park their cars as well."

This year the Commuter Challenge will run from Sept. 17 to 30. Pre-registration for the event closed on Sept. 15, although you can still register at the official launch on Sept. 17.

Every time a participant commutes to work and home again by foot, inline skates, bike, bus, doubling on a motorcycle or tripling up in a car or van pool they get four points, for a maximum of eight points each day. Every time they ride in a two-person car or van pool, or alone on a motorcycle, a participant gets two points.

Businesses will be judged by the rate of participation, and the number of points employees earned in relation to the percentage of participants.

If you participated last year and have not received your kit, or are interested in participating this year as a business or individual, contact Kristina Swerhun at 604-935-8204 or whistlerway@whistler.ca. To download the necessary forms online, visit www.whistler.ca/reading/

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