Wheels, willpower and Way to Go

October marks region’s first annual Go-Tober smart-commuting competition

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Courtesy of Way to Go

Twenty-five regional companies are competing to be this year’s first annual Go-Tober smart-commuting winners. At stake: cleaner air, happier employees and $10,000 in congratulatory advertising for the top three companies.

An initiative of the Way to Go division of the Denver Regional Council of Governments, Go-Tober is a month-long, innovative competition challenging employees in the Denver region to opt for smart-commuting methods such as biking, walking, carpooling, vanpooling, public transit and teleworking.

Colleen Miller is Way to Go’s Marketing Specialist and a selfdescribed sustainability enthusiast. Go-Tober’s ultimate goal, she says, is behavior change. “People don’t have to [commute] every single day. We want them to think about how it can be easy. It can be fun. It can save them money. It can lower their stress.”

To understand Way to Go’s mission, it helps to flash back to the 1950s. Faced with growing pains in the years following World War II, local governments collaborated to create the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), an entity charged with setting policy in the areas of transportation and personal mobility, growth and development, and aging and disability resources. DRCOG services a region that includes Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Clear Creek, Douglas, Gilpin and Jefferson counties; the City and County of Denver; the City and County of Broomfield; and southwest Weld County.

Way to Go is a DRCOG division that represents a regional partnership with several transportation management associations. The division is tasked with promoting progressive commuting options in order to preserve air quality and support employee happiness and productivity in the region. Its services are free to companies and employees.

Way to Go’s own evolution within DRCOG, however, is rooted in international relations. When fuel prices skyrocketed during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, area residents shunned the single-occupancy comfort of their early-model Impalas and Monte Carlos and sought carpooling options. In a pre-Internet matchmaking endeavor, DRCOG staff members paired individuals with carpooling opportunities. Lacking the future convenience of Google Maps and Excel spreadsheets, their work was done on paper.

In the 1980s, DRCOG’s carpoolmatching service was branded RideArrangers. In 2012, it was renamed Way to Go, and its focus shifted toward helping companies and employees implement any smart commuting option that would prevent one more SOV (single-occupancy vehicle) from departing its driveway each morning.

It was a decision reflective of the region’s bustling personality. According to DRCOG’s 2014 Annual Report on Roadway Traffic Congestion in the Denver Region, residents travel nearly 110 million miles in the region every weekday via car, foot, bicycle, passenger seat and other transportation methods. Seventy-five percent of those miles are logged by motor vehicle drivers traveling area roadways for a multitude of reasons. Whatever the purpose — transporting passengers, finished goods, raw materials or simply individual drivers — these vehicles, says the report, burn almost 4 million gallons of fuel and cause more than 170 traffic crashes per day.

Characterized by colorful cyclists, festive pop-up tents and roadside breakfast stations, Bike to Work Day has become one of Way to Go’s familiar annual smart-commuting initiatives. The success of Bike to Work Day is, in fact, what inspired Way to Go’s creation of Go-Tober this year. The division spent two years researching for the event, Miller says, including seeking feedback from Bike to Work Day company coordinators and obtaining their support for Go-Tober.

“HR people know that statistics show that when employees have less stressful commutes, they work smarter and better. They’re more focused,” she says.

Now in full swing throughout the region, the good-natured commuting competition encourages participants to engage in smart-commuting options.

For this year’s pilot program, Way to Go has capped participation at 25 regional companies with a minimum of 100 employees each. The companies occupy three size categories, with an effort index applied to level the playing field.

Among this year’s Go-Tober participants are three government entities: Boulder County, City of Lakewood and City of Aurora. Rocky Mountain Institute, winner of the 2014 Bike to Work Day Business Challenge, is the other participant located in Boulder County.

Competition rules are simple. Throughout the month of October, employees are encouraged to log at least one smart commute per week or a total of four for the month. Individual trips are tracked online at MyWaytoGo.org. Each week, Way to Go tallies the trip numbers and issues a leaderboard by email, listing the topperforming companies in each category. (On tap for Go-Tober 2016 is an online dashboard that tracks real-time results.)

So far, more than 1,300 employees have logged non-SOV trips.

Individual company coordinators are privy to their employees’ commuting statistics, allowing them to offer personalized encouragement and awards. Some companies have partnered with Way to Go to host “Surprise & Delight” events for their employees, treating them to everything from back massages and bike tune-ups to ice cream and foosball. Way to Go also holds a weekly prize drawing for individuals who post on social media using the hashtag #WayToGoTober.

Boulder County’s Employee Transportation Coordinator, Alex Hyde-Wright, has seen the benefits of a commuting initiative that reaches employees who live too far away to participate in Bike to Work Day. “We really promote environmental stewardship at Boulder County,” he says. “Promoting sustainable ways to get to work fits really naturally with our core values.”

At Rocky Mountain Institute, Go-Tober aligns comfortably with the nonprofit’s efforts to shift mobility services toward a more efficient paradigm. “We’re trying to bring new options enabled by new technology to the masses,” says Jonathan Walker, RMI’s mobility transformation program manager. “We think the most tangible step we can take right now is around commuting.”

Go-Tober, he adds, offers RMI a chance to test that theory within its own office.

Miller describes plans to expand the competition next year. Asked what feedback she’s received this month, she speaks brightly about a woman who never carpooled before but has carpooled every day in October. She’s heard praise for the new U.S. 36 bikeway and fielded questions about Way to Go’s vanpool program (in which Way to Go provides the van, insurance and gas, and riders split the monthly fare.)

“We want to demonstrate how easy it is to make a change just one day a week for a month,” Miller says. “Our past surveys have shown that something that simple can, in fact, change behavior. And being rewarded for making the change certainly doesn’t hurt.”

Asked what employee comments she’s overheard during Go-Tober, Miller pauses to reflect, then quotes simply, “‘I never thought about walking to work before. I walked today. It was great.’” 

Go-Tober winners will be announced the first week in November. The individual employee with the highest number of smart commutes will receive an Ikea gift card. The topperforming company in each size category will receive $10,000 in free congratulatory advertising coordinated by Way to Go.

More about Way to Go’s services can be found at WaytoGo.org. Companies interested in participating in Go-Tober 2016 can send an email to WayToGo@DRCOG.org.