Commuter Challenge a success

VERMONT — The results are in. In an attempt to find more economical and environmentally friendly alternatives for getting to work, the 2012 Way to Go Commuter Challenge was a success and saw growth in participation across the state. And one Addison County municipality was singled out for its extraordinary efforts to save gasoline.
The statewide challenge was held May 14-18. The recently released results for the 2012 competition show that in Vermont 3,743 total employees saved 316,169.36 car miles by walking, biking, ride sharing, and taking the bus to work. Participants in the event included 250 towns in Vermont and surrounding states and over 400 organizations and businesses.
Manager of the program Tom Horn was impressed with this year’s results and believes that the Way to Go Challenge achieved the high level of awareness that it hopes to generate each year.
“Overall, 2012 saw a marked growth in participation statewide with 80 percent of Vermont cities and towns now engaged, along with over 60 towns from outside the state,” Horn said. “More than 3,500 folks pledged to use cheaper, healthier and more earth-friendly transportation alternatives to driving alone.”
Additionally, the high rates of participation this year saved more than $70,000 in transportation costs and reduced CO2 emissions by nearly 300,000 pounds in one week.
Among the recognized participants were a number of Addison County towns, businesses and organizations. New to the program last year was the presentation of the Carbon Cup. The prize — given to one small employer, one large employer and one Vermont city or town — was given to a participant that demonstrated strong and significant savings in transportation emissions. Winning the coveted Community Carbon Cup was the city of Vergennes.
Special award winners also included the National Bank of Middlebury, the towns of Ripton and Shoreham, and Middlebury Union High School for their high savings.
Participants in the Commuter Challenge can make big differences individually. According to its website, motor vehicles are the single biggest contributor to air pollution in Vermont. Adding one passenger to an employee’s daily commute saves on average 31 pounds of CO2 emissions per week. Similarly, a four-mile daily bike ride for a week saves 75 pounds.
The foundations of the Commuter Challenge started in the 1990s with the annual Curb Your Car Day, based out of Burlington. Run by the Lake Champlain Committee, the program aimed to bring to light Burlington’s water pollution by using alternate forms of transportation for one day.
Because of heightened interest in the program around the state, the Way to Go Commuter Challenge kicked off in 2009. Now sponsored by the Vermont Energy Corporation, the program is a collective effort with many organizations working under its name.
The program aims to raise awareness on transportation emissions by creating awards to provide incentive. Organizations that pledge for the week are entered in a raffle for prizes such as a Burton snowboard and an iPad.
Horn said that while the Way to Go Commuter Challenge is still relatively new, there is talk of extending the program to move it from being a means of creating awareness to a program that initiates permanent behavioral change. The organization is considering a program that would run two to three months, instead of the single week.
The National Bank of Middlebury has competed in the Commuter Challenge for several years and has also begun to think of ways to continue reducing emissions throughout the year. Recognized by the program for its high rates of participation in the 2012 competition, the bank has already distributed surveys that would help to find ways to make ride shares between employees more available, according to marketing service representative Donna Donahue.
Other techniques the bank used to generate awareness included visual encouragement placed around the office. Each year the bank has a theme to generate interest and gain more participants. This year’s theme was “To Denver,” which meant their goal for total miles saved was 1,885 miles. Organizers assembled a map in the office to track how close they were to the goal. Overall, the National Bank was able to save 2,665 miles. Donahue said that building incentives was the key to NBM’s  success.
“We want to do the right thing, but sometimes we do the easiest thing,” Donahue said. “Our job is to make the right thing easi

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