A new commuter challenge might be just the ticket if you are driving to work nearly every day and see the pros increasingly outweighed by the cons.
Perhaps you, family and friends would break free from the routine that wastes time, gas and money in traffic congestion if only someone provided the road map and the incentive to change, without being preachy or judgmental about it.
A Web-based campaign called "Drive Less, Live More" is being launched by the Regional Transportation Authority and the Active Transportation Alliance. Details and free registration for the six commuter challenges that will take place through August are at drivelesslivemore.com.
The first challenge, aimed at increasing trips on mass transit, is this week.
Prizes are offered, too, to individuals and companies that compete. The rewards include restaurant and hotel packages, folding bicycles that can be taken aboard trains, I-GO car-sharing memberships, and passes to zoos and theme parks, officials said.
The effort is aimed at reducing the prevalence of single-occupancy cars on Chicago-area roadways, replacing many of those trips with healthier and greener commutes, officials said.
First, be assured, hard-core drivers, you won't be asked to go cold turkey. A trip-tracking tool is designed to help you figure out on which trips to put down the car keys.
It works sort of like a Weight Watchers calendar for commuters, said Mary Fawcett, RTA marketing manager. The purpose is to help change behavior and improve lifestyles by providing smarter options, not to set down prohibitions, she said.
The goals are simply to drive less, ride buses and trains more, or car pool, or van pool, or bicycle, or walk more. You even get credit for renting a car-sharing vehicle when other transportation choices are not best-suited for a specific trip.
The trip-tracking tool makes it easy to record your commuting mode for each trip and to keep a running tab on a range of variables, including, for instance, how much money and time you spend, how many gallons of gas or calories you burn or save, and how environmentally "green" your decisions are.
There is clearly room for improvement in the Chicago area, which consistently ranks among the top three regions of the U.S. with the worst traffic gridlock and the highest "congestion tax" in terms of the amount of money and time individual commuters fritter away traveling to work and back home.
In the seven-county Chicago area, 69 percent of commuters drive alone to work, according to U.S. Census Bureau data for 2008 through 2010 that were compiled by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
Single-occupancy vehicle trips to work are highest in the collar counties, 79 percent; followed by suburban Cook County, 76 percent; and Chicago, 50 percent.
The use of public transit is highest in Chicago, at 27 percent; followed by 8 percent in suburban Cook; and 4.5 percent in the collar counties, according to the census data.
There is less variance in terms of carpooling to work: 9.9 percent in Chicago; 9 percent in suburban Cook; and 8 percent in the collar counties, according to the data.
The bicycling-to-work share is 1.2 percent in Chicago; 0.45 percent in suburban Cook; and 0.27 percent in the collar counties, the data show.
So far, 17 companies and more than 320 individuals have signed up for the first Drive Less, Live More challenge held this week, and more challenges will run through 2013, officials said.
The commuter challenge, funded by a $400,000 federal grant, comes with plenty of positive reinforcement, including congratulatory slaps on the back from your colleagues at work, friendly peer pressure when it's needed and monthly prizes like "staycations" at downtown hotels.
Steve Shonder, a lawyer who usually commutes between his home in Berwyn and his downtown office by Metra or bicycling, said he joined the commuter challenge to encourage others at his law firm to participate.
"I hate to proselytize about things, but instead try to lead by example," said Shonder, 51. "The commuter challenge will raise awareness and provide the opportunity to shoot an email to a colleague suggesting they take a look at it."
The challenge starts with a one-week commitment but comes with strategies designed to help transform your commuting lifestyle, said Brian Morrissey, of the Active Transportation Alliance.
"Participants come for the peer pressure to take on the challenge and they stay for the individual rewards," Morrissey said. "They tell us they want to make this behavior change permanent."
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