Apr 212005
Authors: Caroline Welch

Earth Day is a yearly reminder of what people are doing to help and hinder the environment, but Fort Collins and CSU are hoping to keep one message in commuters' minds all year: drive less and gain more.

The city of Fort Collins offers a number of programs to promote alternative modes of transportation through Smart Trips, said Sylvia Cranmer, marketing analyst for Smart Trips.

"Smart Trips is always looking for ways for people to get around without driving," Cranmer said. "The purpose of Smart Trips is to help people learn about alternative modes of transportation and learn how to use them."

One new program is set to take off in May. Called "Trip Savers," participants pledge to use alternate transportation at least once a week and are entered into a drawing for prizes, including a $500 grand prize, Cranmer said.

Pledge cards will be available in the Coloradoan today, 1212 Riverside Ave. and online at www.fcgov.com/smarttrips.

The Drive Less Challenge is a 6-year-old program that rewards city employees (including faculty and staff at CSU) for using alternative transportation, said Cranmer, who coordinates the program. Currently the program has 40 participating businesses, and Cranmer said they are always taking more participants.

The program promotes carpooling, riding bikes, walking and taking the bus as an alternative to driving alone. Commuters who work at local businesses, including CSU, can gain "drive-less dollars" to use as cash at more than 150 local businesses, said Guenter Engling, a research assistant getting his doctorate in atmospheric chemistry and participant in the program.

Participants keep track of the miles they do not drive and gain dollars for driving just five days a month, with a $20 bonus for being in the top 5 percent.

"It is neat to see your miles at the end of the week or month," Engling said. "You save gas money and get exercise."

But Engling said money is not his main motivation for participating in the Drive Less Challenge.

"Exercise is important to me and so is saving money," he said. "But the main reason I participate is ethical."

Engling said the whole infrastructure of driving has many negative impacts including air and noise pollution, both while driving and while manufacturing cars through fossil fuels and crude oil.

"If I drive, I take advantage of non-renewable resources," he said. "People lose lots of time in traffic jams and there are indirect effects like accidents that burden the medical system. A lot of people pay for my luxury of driving."

However, the Drive Less Challenge is not the only program to motivate community members to avoid driving.

This month, Smart Trips is sponsoring a Drive Less Contest for local high schools, which includes prizes for students who carpool, walk, ride their bikes or take the bus to school, Cranmer said. The program spends two weeks at each school handing out prizes like lip balm and pens.

But in American society, convenience is a luxury people are not always willing to give up.

Sarah Scott,a sophomore equine science major who lives five miles from campus, said she usually drives to school because it provides her with more options.

"Driving is more on my time," Scott said. "I can stop somewhere after class if I need to, and if I lived closer I would do something else."

Matt Torgerson, a junior liberal arts major who lives closer to campus said he usually rides his bike to class, unless it is cold.

"Compared to Alaska, the weather here is good and it's a good way to get exercise during the day," said Torgerson, who is from Alaska.

Torgerson recognizes incentives may not be enough to motivate people to choose not to drive.

"I would think a lot of people are really attached to their own mode of transportation," Torgerson said. "It's part of the American culture. It's not just about incentives, we have to deal with the fact that, as Americans, we are accustomed to, and really like having, our own mode of transportation."

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