An initiative that started as a one-day Curb Your Car Day in the 1990s has spun a web of interconnected participating groups, individuals, activities, sponsors and planning teams.
Way To Go! Commuter Challenge, which starts Monday and ends Friday, encourages the public to use a transportation alternative to driving alone. People might share a ride, walk, bicycle or take a bus to work. Chittenden County started the project in 2004; when it became a statewide initiative in 2009, Vermont Energy Investment Corp. took on the task of acting as its host.
Tom Horn, this year’s statewide coordinator under a contract with the hosting group, said a steering committee has met monthly from January to May. It’s an informally organized committee of transportation planners and interested people who reach out from the committee to other groups that promote energy conservation.
“Without that web, we wouldn’t be able to secure the level of engagement and geographic diversity that we have,“ Horn said this week.
Among the partnering organizations in the network are Chittenden County Transportation Authority, Local Motion, Community Climate Action/10%Challenge, Area Transportation Management Association, the city of Burlington, Addison County Transit Resources and regional planning commissions.
Debra Sachs of Community Climate Action/10% Challenge said the Way To Go! event has set a goal of saving 500,000 pounds of carbon emissions.
“This is a great opportunity for folks to explore a new way to commute to work, or anywhere else they might usually drive,” she said.
The event’s website, www.waytogovt.org, provides a place for employers and individuals to register their participation in the Commuter Challenge online, by clicking the “Sign Up Now” bar. Participants are asked what type of vehicle they normally use, the number of miles they commute, how they plan to travel to work during Way To Go! Week, and how many days they will use the alternative means of transportation. Organizers say personal information will not be shared with any third party.Three Carbon Cup trophies will be awarded: one to an employer with 20-100 , one to a business with more than 100 employees, and one to a community for the greatest tally of registered participants.
Horn said the number of commuters who took part tripled from 2006 to 2011, to 3,590 people. More than 400,000 miles were saved last year, as well as 400,000 pounds of carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere.
Burlington High School and Middlebury Union High School are engaged in a friendly competition during Way To Go! Week to see which will get the greatest percentage of students and staff signed up for the challenge, said Pam Mathews of Local Motion. Mathews also is working with the two to promote a pilot program for carpooling in the fall, and the May challenge will help lead into the program.
In and around Burlington, the Campus Area Transportation Management Association has ongoing sustainable commuter programs for its member institutions. Sandy Thibault, associate director, said employees of Fletcher Allen , the University of Vermont, the American Red Cross, Champlain College and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission are eligible for carpool matching, bus-pass discounts and other bonuses.
“It is our goal to encourage our employees to sign up for Way To Go! but more importantly for them to continue using that alternate mode to reduce single-occupant vehicles in and around our region,” Thibault said. The group conducts an annual spring outreach campaign about alternative transportation in conjunction with Way To Go! Week.
More than a dozen people found their new way to go as they began April 23 to ride the new 16-passenger commuter bus between Middlebury and Burlington. The route is run cooperatively by Chittenden County Transportation Authority and Addison County Transit .
The bus began operating in April with stops in Bristol, Starksboro and Hinesburg, with an official launch Monday to kick off Way To Go! Week.
The bus is one of Addison County’s many energy-saving plans, including two recently installed charging stations for electric vehicles adjacent to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s building.
Horn, the Way To Go! coordinator, said 75 percent of Vermont towns are taking part in Way To Go! Week this year.