Make your miles count

By: Dylan Nelson

Cort Christopher, who recently began using Smart Trips, loads his bike onto the bus on his way home from the downtown station. Photo by Dylan Nelson.
Cort Christopher, who recently began using Smart Trips, loads his bike onto the bus on his way home from the downtown station. Photo by Dylan Nelson.

Whatcom Smart Trips is a program created by the Whatcom Council of Governments to encourage Whatcom County citizens to walk, bicycle, carpool, or use public transportation instead of driving alone.

The Whatcom Smart Trips Program offers community members incentives to use and keep track of their use of these alternative modes of transportation to record the difference they make by doing so. These incentives include cash prizes and discounts at local stores.

The Smart Trips website and mobile application allow users to record how far they travel in a day and how they do so.

The website then takes that information and translates it to show statistics such as how many cupcakes worth of calories a user has burned, how much money they have saved on gas, and how many pounds of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide they have saved by walking, biking or taking the bus instead of driving.

Blanche Bybee, an instruction and classroom support technician in the science department and employee transportation coordinator at Whatcom Community College has been a part of the Smart Trips program since 2008 and said she has personally recorded more than 850 trips.

“I haven’t always been religious about it but for the most part I try to do it,” she said. “I like to see the number of pounds of hydrocarbons and the gallons of gas I have saved.”

More than 150 faculty and staff members and students at Whatcom use the Smart Trips program and actively record the distance of their trips said Bybee, who can view the recorded distances of anyone who signed up for the program who listed Whatcom as their employer.

“The total number of recorded trips that people have made at Whatcom is 34,430 trips,” said Bybee.

According to the Whatcom Smart Trips website, after 10 trips have been entered by a participant they are sent a discount card that can be used at more than 100 local businesses, including Village Books, REI Bellingham, Avenue Bread and Deli, and the Community Food Co-op.

If users make and record at least five Smart Trips in a month they are automatically entered into a drawing for $250. If participants continuously record their trips for three months they will be automatically entered in a drawing for $1,000.

“I’ve gotten free pasta, free bagels and free Mallard’s ice cream. So that’s an incentive,” said Bybee. “For me it’s being able to look at the statistics, I know that’s kind of geeky, but to be able to look at them and say ‘hey, I’m doing something. I’m physically making a difference.’”

However, it was not the statistical or monetary incentives that got Bybee interested in the program, she said. “It’s the thousands of dollars that you’re not spending on gas. They say the average car costs people about $8,000 a year,” she said. “If you don’t have a car, maybe you have a bus pass that is $40 a quarter. That’s a big difference right there.”

“It’s a win-win not to have a car,” Bybee said. “But it’s not seen in our society. Not having a car, people see it as a deprivation and not necessarily that it’s almost as convenient,” she said. “I’ve burned the equivalent of 198 cupcakes by biking and walking.”

Whatcom Smart Trips has also come up with a contingency plan for people who are bussing or biking to work and have an emergency that requires they get somewhere quickly. In the event of an emergency, participants can take a free taxi ride home, according to the Smart Trips website.

“Say you biked and your kid falls of the bicycle and you need to get to the hospital, it gives you another option,” Bybee said. “It’s kind of to be used infrequently at best but it’s a cool fallback.”

According to its website, the goal of Whatcom Smart Trips is to “reduce traffic congestion, build a more efficient transportation system, provide health benefits to individuals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other types of air and water pollution.”

Whatcom Smart Trips is sponsored by the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, the Whatcom Transportation Authority, the State of Washington, and grants from the Northwest Clean Air Agency, Puget Sound Energy, ConcoPhillips, Ferndale Refinery, and the U.S. Department of Energy.


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