GreenTrips encourages Chattanooga residents to bike, walk or ride share. In turn, they are rewarded with meals at local restaurants, gift certificates to local florists and gyms and more.

Photo by Steven Llorca

The Short Tale of How One City Got Its Citizens to Revamp Their Daily Commute

This innovative program rewards drivers for walking, biking and packing numerous bodies into the car.

In 2013, 75 percent of Americans drove by themselves to work each day. In Chattanooga, Tenn., that figure was 90 percent, and the city had the poor air quality, high obesity rates and gridlock to show for it. Something needed to change, but how do you convince thousands of dedicated drivers to overhaul their method of getting to work?

Funded by a $600,000 Federal Highway Administration grant, GreenTrips launched in the southern city in June 2013. The program encourages residents to record each trip they make by foot, bike, bus or carpool and rewards them with swag, such as meals at burger joints and burrito restaurants, gift certificates to local florists and gyms, free bikeshare memberships and more. The hope is that great local incentives, along with a ridesharing app that encourages carpooling and a dashboard that shows how much a person saves on transportation, will motivate Chattanoogans to rethink how they travel.

“We felt like if we could get people to see there are other ways to get around, and make it easier for them to do so, we might not have some of the problems that we had,” says Melissa Taylor, director of strategic long-range planning for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization, the group overseeing the program.

So far, only 1,491 of Chattanooga’s 173,000 residents have enrolled, but the results are startling. In three years, more than 2.4 million miles of healthier, greener travel have been logged — that’s enough to save 82,552 gallons of gasoline and prevent 1.6 million pounds of pollution from entering the atmosphere. Additionally, participants have burned 14 million calories.

Especially satisfying is that what began as a program embraced by urban professionals has slowly expanded its reach, including many participants that reside in economically disadvantaged areas. “It’s not just the $1,000 urban biker. It’s a lot of people who are using carpools better to reduce some of their household costs,” explains Taylor.

Despite its success, challenges remain. GreenTrips needs to recruit more members and get another federal grant to extend the funding that ends at the end of this calendar year. But internal surveys have found that once people give new kinds of travel a try, they tend to do it again. “Not only are they receiving rewards for trips they’re already taking, but [GreenTrips] makes them more likely to take those kinds of trips in the future.”

In order to reduce this country’s greenhouse gas emissions, more Americans need to change their behavior. But as the results generated by GreenTrips demonstrates, Chattanooga is off to a good start.

Homepage photo by Steven Llorca

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