Contest Reveals Importance of People’s Non-Commute Trips

Each year in May, RIDE Solutions in Southwest Virginia hosts a Clean Commute Challenge as part of its National Bike Month activities. In the past, participants only logged commute trips, but for the 2015 contest, we opened trip types up to a variety of non-commute options, including dining, shopping, business meetings, religious services, and volunteer work.

We believed the non-commute options would primarily be used by our more competitive teams to give themselves a slight edge. Instead, we found that these trips were a major contributor to the competition:

  • In 2014, the Clean Commute Challenge logged 42,503 miles. In 2015, it logged 52,503, an increase of 23 percent.
  • In 2014, the Challenge logged 1,055 trips. In 2015, it logged 2,421, an increase of 138 percent.

Forty percent of all logged trips in 2015 were non-commute trips. Nearly all the gains came from the addition of non-commute trips.

While we were pleased in the 23 percent growth in the number of logged miles, the fact that the number of logged trips more than doubled really surprised us, and indicates a much stronger engagement with the contest than we had anticipated.

How did the non-commute trips break down?

  • 4 percent – general errands
  • 4 percent – religious services and volunteer work
  • 5 percent – shopping
  • 7 percent – non-commute but work based, such as a business meetings
  • 8 percent – dining
  • 13 percent – social, though not recreational, trips

While the nature of the challenge has changed over the years, its most recent, successful iterations have involved two elements:

  • An option for participants to pledge to use a clean mode – bicycle, carpool, walk, transit, or telework – at least one day in May.
  • The option for participants to log clean trips, by mode and mileage, for chances to win prizes and to compete against other teams.

Non Work TripsThe low-involvement pledge option gets people through the door and engaged with the program. We understand that many people who take the pledge never actually fulfill their trip commitments, but at least a channel of communication opens that may help us get them involved later.

Interestingly, retirees were one of the groups of people we heard from the most over the course of the contest. These were either people who had used our services in the recent past while they were still working and had remain engaged with us after they left the workforce, or folks who were supporters because of their commitment to environmental causes. The addition of the non-commute trips for this group allowed them to participate in the program and have a measurable impact.

While commute trips certainly make sense as the focus of transportation demand management due to their predictability and the fact that employment centers have large amounts of jobs that can allow TDM to make a real difference, it’s important to remember that census data suggests only 40 percent of trips a household makes are for commuting. That leaves a huge market – and lots of miles – to be tapped, and our initial results show there are folks who are eager to try leaving the car at home even with these trips.

Overall, this year’s Clean Commute Challenge:

  • Removed more than 47,000 pounds of CO2 from the air
  • Saved the 133 people who logged a trip a total of more than $13,000,based on AAA cost-per-mile estimates, and
  • Burned more than 77,000 calories for those who biked or walked.

Without the addition of non-commute trips, we would not have made nearly as big an impact on the region with our challenge.

Photo by Anne and Tim. Video by Q99 FM Radio.

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