By KAT FRIEDRICH/ecoRI News contributor
Thousands of drivers will cut their commuting miles by participating in Massachusetts Car-Free Week Sept. 16-20. They will log their progress through NuRide, a website that rewards drivers for switching to other modes of transit.
Massachusetts has been the only state to expand World Carfree Day into an entire week dedicated to routing motorists toward bikes, shared commuter vehicles and public transit. Since Mass Commute organized the first of these events in 2011, Chicago’s Regional Transit Authority and Middlesex County, N.J., have kicked off their own car-free weeks.
David Kucharsky, executive director of Mass Commute, said last year’s Car-Free Week attracted 4,600 participants and prevented 319 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. He expects this year’s event to have an even larger impact.
Outside of Greater Boston’s famous traffic jams, driving is relatively convenient most of the year in Massachusetts. But the benefits of switching to biking, carpooling or mass transit can go far beyond the advantages of saving fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“What I love most about commuting on the train is that my husband and I can actually enjoy each other’s company without having the stress and distraction of being in the car,” Joanna Hewitt wrote in a statement published by Mass Commute. “Some days we catch up with each other or share funny stories from work.”
Another Car-Free Week participant, Todd Consentino, told Mass Commute that he travels to work by bike because he enjoys it. “It’s an amazing source of stress relief. I get at least two hours of cardio exercise per day via my bike commute.”
Mass Commute uses a variety of contests and prizes to entice drivers to change their daily habits. The organization is holding a video contest to encourage people to document their experiences of trying new modes of transit. The person whose video is voted most popular will win a gift card.
Outside the Boston area, public transit isn’t as widely available. The ease of biking also varies based on local road grades and traffic. To address these regional differences, Mass Commute has partnered with MassRIDES, which provides information on park-and-ride options, ridesharing, commuter buses and boat transit statewide.
Because the event is sponsored by Mass Commute, which is a coalition of transportation management associations (TMAs), its main emphasis is on work-related commuting. The TMAs are public-private partnerships including employers who are interested in promoting alternative transit for their workers.