Commuter Challenge returns to U of C

This week the University of Calgary wants you to get out of your car and onto a bus, bike, or any other means of sustainable transportation.

The 2010 Commuter Challenge is on now until June 5, encouraging people across the country to consider alternatives to driving alone to work such as walking, cycling, using transit or tele-working. The week long, Canada-wide competition pits organizations across the country against each other to see who can produce the healthiest commuters.

“Lots of people on campus are already using sustainable modes of transportation,” said U of C sustainability co-ordinator Justin Brown. “We’re just trying to get them to log it down.”

The Commuter Challenge website allows workplaces to pre-register for the event and then, during the week, employees record their commuting behaviour. The results, posted daily, show which cities and workplaces have the highest per cent of participants and changes to greenhouse gas emissions, calories burned and dollars saved on gas based on new commuting habits.

Bow Valley College and the U of C are the only Alberta post-secondary institutions taking part in the event, allowing students to participate as well as staff.

“The Students’ Union is partnering with the U of C on this project,” said SU vice-president student life Jennifer Abbott. “If you sign up for commuter challenge, they send you an update at the end of each day. Last night it said that U of C was fourth out of 600 organizations.”

Brown said it was “too early to tell” how the U of C was doing at this point in the competition.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to do close to what we did last year. That’s our goal.”

In 2009 the university came second in the country with 819 people taking part in the campaign, nearly 15 per cent of all employees at the school. Nationally, Calgary has also seen great success in the program, coming in first in 2009, something national Commuter Challenge leader Kathryn Winkler attributes to the corporate culture of the city.

“Even though Calgary and Alberta have economies based around oil and gas people living here really care about the environment and are well educated,” said Winkler. “Corporations want to do the right thing.”

The Office of Sustainability is giving away prizes, such as Folk Fest tickets and VIP passes to MacEwan Hall concerts, to those taking part.

“It’s a formal way to have personal transportation choices noted,” said Brown. “Participating in events like this help to increase the profile of the University of Calgary.”

Winkler said that though the program is aimed at businesses and employees, the U of C isn’t breaking any rules by encouraging students to participate because even if they don’t work at the school, students can still cut back on their commute. Her group is also organizing a similar campus-based challenge aimed to launch in September.

The history of the Commuter Challenge in Calgary goes back to 1991 when the Corporate Commuter Challenge began as an internal competition at the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board. In 2000, local events from across the country were united under the Commuter Challenge Canada umbrella.

In 2009, the Commuter Challenge logged 44,551 participants from 1,636 registered organizations.

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