Central Ohio Commuter Challenge rewards sustainable transportation use.

Few things are more frustrating than sitting in traffic on the way to work, watching time tick by on the clock, helplessly trapped bumper to bumper as it seems like the entire state of Ohio attempts to squeeze into Downtown Columbus.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, in collaboration with other organizations, has been working to combat these congestion and pollution issues since 2016 with an annual commuter challenge, which rewards Central Ohio commuters for taking advantage of alternative modes of transportation.

The 2018 Central Ohio Commuter Challenge, which is organized by MORPC, the Central Ohio Transit Authority, Enterprise Rideshare and Smart Columbus, will run from July 16 to 27. The challenge offers monetary prizes to commuters who utilize sustainable transportation to travel to and from work.

Sustainable transportation can be carpooling – which includes driving with another family member – vanpooling, riding on COTA buses, biking, walking and more. Commuters who use COTA’s new Downtown C-passes can log their commutes as well. The Downtown C-pass program, which was launched on June 1 by the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, offers unlimited COTA bus use to commuters working within the eligible C-pass district. More than 46,000 Downtown employees are eligible for the pass within the district, says Melissa Fast, marketing director for Capital Crossroads SID.

“Not just Columbus, but the Midwest is a pretty car-centric environment,” she says. “So the Downtown C-pass really provides a unique opportunity for people to try transit in a way that they haven't been able to try before.”

Each workday, participating commuters have the chance to log a trip using sustainable transportation, and throughout the challenge there will be daily raffle drawings for a $25 gift card. If commuters use sustainable transportation on a given day during the challenge, they will receive an entry in the raffle pool. Trips can be logged online at www.gohiocommute.com or on the new RideAmigos commute tracker app, and logging trips is based on the honor system. At the end of the challenge, commuters will receive one entry per commute made with sustainable transportation during the 10-workday challenge for the grand prizes: a $100, $200 and $300 Visa gift card.

 Last year, 650 commuters participated in the challenge, and organizers are anticipating a 10 percent increase in participation this year.

New to this year’s challenge is the opportunity for commuters to log their trips using RideAmigos. The app detects when a commute is being made and asks that participants confirm the trip and mark which mode of sustainable transportation they used.

“One of our biggest things last year was that people thought it was a great challenge, but they forgot to log their trips,” says Patty Olmsted, senior business outreach coordinator for MORPC. “[Using the RideAmigos app,] it's going to make a lot more people participate this year and make them love the whole 10 days, and they won't forget about it.”

In previous years, the commuter challenge has been a month-long event, but with the initiation of the downtown C-pass and other transportation programs, Olmsted says MORPC decided to split the challenge up into two weeks in July, followed by two weeks in October, in an attempt to “reinforce new behaviors” in transportation.  

In central Ohio, traffic congestion and car emissions are some of the biggest contributors to ozone pollution. Educating people on sustainable transportation and incentivizing its use will help make the environment healthier, as well speed up commute times, Olmsted says.

Fast echoes this.  

“If we even notice just a small change in commuter habits, it would have a significant impact on congestion and parking issues,” Fast says.

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