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Whistler Commuter Challenge tops in Canada

Highest participation in the country

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The results are in from the national Clean Air Day Commuter Challenge, which was held as part of World Environment Week on June 8.

Whistler ranked highest out of 105 participating communities across Canada, both overall and in the 1,000-9,9999 population category, with 621 participants from 42 different businesses and Spring Creek Community School.

That represents a 4.43 per cent participation rate, or more than double the next highest participation rate of 1.82 per cent fielded by Dorval, Quebec.

To be counted, participants had to opt for sustainable modes of transportation to and from work, like walking, cycling, in-line skating, busing and carpooling. It’s estimated that Whistler saved 2.9 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the air while eliminating some 15,994 km in trips.

Vancouver also ranked highest among cities with a population of a million or more, with 8,857 participants saving an amazing 243,792 km in car trips.

For Whistler, the commuter challenge is nothing new. Every fall for the past three years individuals and local businesses have participated in a two-week commuter challenge for prizes. Each year several businesses achieve 100 per cent participation, 100 per cent success in getting participating staff onto alternative modes of transportation, or both.

If anything, Whistler’s participation in the one-day event was low compared to the two-week event according to Marc Zurbuchen, the One Tonne Challenge Co-ordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler. "One of the things I heard in talking to people was that one day was maybe a little too easy," he said.

While the Commuter Challenge was created as an opportunity to educate people about the health, financial and environmental benefits of using alternative modes of transportation, there are other benefits for the community as well.

"It really allows Whistler to compare ourselves, how well we are doing compared to other communities in Canada, which gives us ideas how we can do better," Zerbuchen said.

"It’s also great to get a little recognition for what we’re doing, being I really believe that Whistler is definitely a leader in sustainability, and getting people there and back using sustainable transportation. We get to show Canada we’re on top of it, and share some of the things that are working for us with other communities."

Whistler’s transportation system, the Valley Trail system, and a culture of fitness that encourages activities like biking, in-line skating, skateboarding, walking and running are credited for the Commuter Challenge success, as well as initiatives by employers and local governments to make it easier for people to commute.

The two-week Commuter Challenge is being planned for Sept. 22 to Oct. 5 this year. Over a thousand people took part last year, with businesses competing for prizes in different categories and individuals competing for a list of draw prizes that included a seasons pass for Whistler-Blackcomb and a year’s family pass for Meadow Park.

This year’s event will be bigger than in the past, with more side events, more categories and more prizes said Zurbuchen.

"This is one event that has grown a lot in recent years, and we expect it to be even bigger and better this year," he said. "The goal is to get as many people participating as we can, and give them reasons to take alternative forms of transportation."

Zurbuchen is also preparing a case study for the national commuter challenge on why Whistler was so successful this year. The fact that so many people participate in the two-week challenge is definitely a factor he said.

"What we’re finding is that people are extremely willing to take part, they’re open to what we’re trying to do," said Zurbuchen. "Some people have even changed their habits as a result of this event, which is what you hope for."

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