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Commuter Challenge intended to get people out of cars

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Getting people out of passenger vehicles and into more environmentally friendly modes of transportation is not as easy as it sounds. People become attached to their cars and the freedom they provide, and can get quite defensive if you suggest that this attachment is in any way unhealthy. The line between liking a car and needing a car can get blurred.

To help people realize the economic, environmental, social, and health benefits of walking, cycling and car or van pooling, The Whistler Way is holding a two-week intervention called the Commuter Challenge.

The Commuter Challenge runs from Sept. 19, International Car Free Day, to Oct. 2, International Walk To School Day.

It asks that employees, residents and businesses people walk, bike, skate, bus or car/van pool to work and around town for the duration of contest. Points are awarded for using the best of these alternative forms of travel, and the top individuals and companies will receive awards and recognition for their efforts.

In addition, all participants will be eligible to win a Whistler-Blackcomb Season Pass for 2002-03 as well as an annual family pass to Whistler Recreation and Meadow Park. Early bird registrants are eligible win one of 400 one-week transit passes as well as other draw prizes.

The municipality has run one-day commuter challenges in the past, and local schools kids have competed against other classes for a week at a time. According to Emma Dal Santo, Traffic Demand Management Co-ordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the program was expanded to two weeks to give commuters a better idea of how easy it is to use alternatives.

"Two weeks is a more realistic time if you want to influence what is essentially a behaviour change," said Dal Santo.

"In two weeks you get a real sample of what it’s like and what the benefits are. If a smoker can quit for two weeks, there’s a good chance that they will stop forever. If they only stop for a day, there’s a better chance they’re going to start up again, lapse back into their old ways."

The way it works is that teams and individuals enter in one of three categories; small (under 10 members); medium (10 to 99 members) and large (100 and over members).

If you are a clean air commuter on any given day in the two week period, you earn points for your organization. A clean air commuter is someone who walks, bikes, skates, takes public transit, or travels by car or van pool with three or more people. Each commute to and from work is worth four points in total.

For two person car or van pools, a round trip is worth two points.

A single occupancy vehicle, including a motorcycle, nets zero points. If individuals have more than one job, they can claim a maximum of eight points per day. To be eligible for the draw to win the Whistler-Blackcomb season pass, the participant must earn a minimum of 40 points during the two weeks.

Plaques will be awarded to organizations within each group with the greatest number of participants. For example, if your organization has 40 employees and 20 participants, your participation rate is 50 per cent.

Plaques will also be awarded to the organizations within each category with the highest percentage of possible points. For example, if your organization has 10 members, the maximum number of possible points (14 days times eight points) is 112 per person, times 10 participants.

Pre-registration wraps up on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The kick-off pancake breakfast takes place on Thursday, Sept. 19 between 7 and 9:30 a.m. in the Town Plaza.

Several side events are also taking place as part of the Commuter Challenge.

At noon on Monday, Sept. 16, Whistler council and senior staff at municipal hall and Whistler-Blackcomb are going to see how many people they can cram into a Jack Poole Foundation car pool vehicle outside of municipal hall. This event is billed as "an old-fashioned car stuffing event."

On Sept. 23, Vancouver Councillor and Translink director Gordon Price is giving a special AWARE-sponsored presentation titled "Why It’s Taking Longer to Get Anywhere."

There will also be a Commuter Challenge awards ceremony at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7 at municipal hall at the beginning of the council meeting.

To participate, contact the municipality at 604-935-8203 or by e-mailing rbowen@whistler.ca

A survey is included with the registration forms, and once the Commuter Challenge is complete Dal Santo will follow up with participants to see if people are continuing to use travel alternatives, or have gone back to their cars.

"It will be interesting from a traffic demand management standpoint to see if people continue to leave the car at home a month after the Challenge," said Dal Santo.

As part of the nationwide Commuter Challenge, the federal government is also providing money to the municipality to hire a Traffic Demand Management Workplace Co-ordinator for one day a week who goes into businesses and help to organize alternative transportation measures for staff.

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