I want to ride my bicycle…

By Medha Subramani

Old habits don’t have to die hard, and the 17th annual Commuter Challenge is asking Calgarians to change their habits by giving their cars some well-deserved time off June 3-9.

The Commuter Challenge is a competition between workplaces and Canadian cities, to see which company has the highest percentage of healthy commuters using more sustainable modes of transportation. The challenge began in 1991 and runs in unison with National Environmental Week.

“We are trying to get people out of their single-occupant vehicles,” said Kathryn Winkler, executive director of the Sustainable Alberta Association and Calgarian Commuter Challenge Organizer.

More than 4,000 Calgarians participated in 2006, and this year the University of Calgary has once again joined in, though campus participation in the past has gone up and down. Last year, only 98 U of C employees participated, representing only two per cent of the university’s employees.

Communications Assistant for Campus Infrastructure Afshan Mahmood said the U of C hopes to double last year’s participation by supplying more information, increasing the hype around the event and awarding more prizes to participants.

The university held a launch breakfast Mon., Jun. 4, where booklets on how to be an effective commuter were circulated. Prizes will be awarded on the basis of how many hours of eco-friendly travelling participants log in.

“Its important that people actually log in their hours on the site– www.commuterchallenge.ca–when they are participating, otherwise it won’t count,” said Mahmood.

Mahmood urges U of C participants to be innovative, citing past participants’ inventive efforts, such as Mountain Equipment Co-op employees who canoed to work and even an instance of one Calgary employee who “cross-country skied” to his workplace on his office chair, flanked by police cars. She also encouraged students to participate by going to the website and logging in as U of C employees.

“I thought it would be really hard,” said fourth-year accounting student Carolina Rodriguez. “But since a bunch of my friends are doing it together, it gives us more time to talk to each other or even read on the train. It’s extra-enjoyable right now since the weather’s so great.”

Rodriguez said she plans to continue with her new, environmentally friendly routine.

Winkler strongly asserted that habits fostered by participating in the challenge will extend beyond this week and said the challenge would make a difference in people’s commuting habits.

“We’ve actually done surveys after an event all the way to September,” said Winkler. “We found that over 50 per cent of those people who changed their behaviour continued to use that other mode of transportation over the summer more than twice a week.”

According to Winkler, it’s just a matter of changing habits.

“Typically, people don’t realize how easy it is to do something else,” she said. “You get really stuck in a habit of driving your car and if you’re motivated to get on your bike for a whole week, you actually find out that it’s not that complicated. It’s just that you have to get them to change a habit and when you get them doing something for a week they’re already starting to create a new habit.”

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