Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's not too late to join the Way to Go VT! Commuter Challenge

A cyclist pedals along North Union Street in Burlington on Thursday. The weeklong Way to Go! Commuter Challenge starts today.
It’s not too late to leave your car at home for this week — or pack it with car-poolers, say organizers for the annual Way to Go! Commuter Challenge.
Participants in the five-day pledge to lower Vermont’s single largest source of carbon emissions might also dabble with bus travel, or bike and walking commutes, they say.

Most of them, after a week, will still cling to the American claim of entitlement to the costly convenience of cars, said Way to Go! coordinator Tom Horn, a transportation consultant at Burlington-based Vermont Energy Investment Corp.

“It’s like a right,” he said Saturday. “It’s a huge issue for us, and it’s going to get bigger.”

The weeklong event, which officially begins today, is not designed to fast-track behavior modification among commuters, Horn said; but it might pique their curiosity about life in the bus-or-bike lane.

About 3,000 Vermonters have signed up online and received tentative calculations for their individual contributions to cleaner air and cheaper travel.

Statistics maintained by the campaign are far from iron-clad, Horn said; there are heaps of variables, including the reluctance of schools to furnish personal information to a public database.

The group’s website predicts that by Friday, Vermonters can expect to have saved about 350,000 car-miles — or roughly 15,000 gallons of gasoline, using a 20 mpg average.

The week of fewer car trips will keep about 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, it adds.

Not everyone who participates does so for virtue’s sake, organizers say: Cost is a driving factor for people to drive less, too.

They predict that, collectively, Vermonters will spend about $79,000 less on commutes this week.

The numbers game has spurred a rivalry between the towns of Hinesburg and Shelburne, where advocates have released photographs of their respective champions (Karla Munson and Donna Fialkoff, respectively) squaring off in boxing gloves.

Hinesburg has the edge in experience, said Munson, who coordinates the long-established Hinesburg Rides network of carpooling, car sharing and employer incentives. In 2009 — two years after its founding — the group won a bike rack for the village in previous competitions. It now maintains a lively website,www.hinesburgrides.org, where members can arrange for, or initiate, any number of transportation options.

Munson says the group is taking no chances with Shelburne.

Commuters in Hinesburg will have a free van service to Burlingtonthis week, embellished with free coffee and donuts at the village terminus.

This month, organizers in Chittenden County unveiled the Carbon Cup, a trophy fashioned from a gussied-up and engraved car muffler, topped with a spray of flowers.

Three such trophies for participation will be awarded at the end of this week’s Way to Go challenge: to a small company (fewer than 50 employees); a larger company; and to a Vermont city or town.

For more information about Vermonters who are working together for cheaper, cleaner commutes — even if they sometimes appear to be having a ball — visit the Way to Go! Vermont website:www.waytogovt.org.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 orjoelbaird@burlingtonfreepress.com. Baird’s blog:http://bit.ly/BairdsEye. Become a fan of the Burlington Free Press page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bfpnews.

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