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The Business Commute Challenge

By Rick Douglas

EUGENE, Ore. — All this week, dozens of businesses in Lane County will compete in the annual Business Commute Challenge.

The idea is to encourage employees to ride a bike of take a bus to work. The driving miles saved really add up and count toward bragging rights for the year.

For many people, suggesting Eugene needs to be more bike-friendly is like suggesting the arctic needs more ice.

Eugene has a lot to be proud of when it comes to driving alternatives. But even with ample bike lanes around town, a good thing can always be made better.

“It’s not quite as developed as Portland with different bike turn lanes and so on, but compared to average cities, it’s one of the top cities,” said Peter Reppe.

He is an energy analyst with Solarc Architecture. The native-born German rides his bike all year, rain or shine.

“If I drove from home, it might be five minutes faster. Going home during rush hour, I believe I’m five minutes faster by bike,” he said.

Reppe doesn’t need an incentive to bike to work because he’s passionate about its practicality. But Solarc makes it even more attractive.

“We get $2 a day to ride our bikes or walk. Cash incentive paid out in our paychecks. Adds up to 250 days a year: $500,” he said.

Solarc is one of dozens of Lane County employers involved in this year’s Business Commute Challenge. The idea is to encourage as many employees as possible to park the car and as an alternative take the bus.

“The credit union actually offers a free bus pass year ’round for any employee that wants to participate in it,” said Jama Ficek.

Ficek is a branch manager for Pacific Cascade Credit Union. This mother of six says she doesn’t need convincing. Riding the bus gives her a little “me” time.

“I have a special-needs son and he will always have to use the bus as a resource. I also have a 9-year-old. That’s our favorite thing to do, to go down to the library. Ride the bus down to the library on Saturdays. They think that’s the funnest thing in the world,” she said.

And at the credit union’s downtown branch, several employees carpool to work. Ficek says it’s all part of her company’s commitment to the Commuter Challenge.

“We try for 100 percent. Last year, we had 80 percent participation and we’d like to do that again. I’m not sure where we’re at on that,” she said.

9Wood is a ceiling manufacturer in Springfield. Its custom-made lattice pieces are prized by interior designers and can be found in buildings all over the country. Since so many 9Wood employees work odd shifts, bus schedules don’t work for everyone. But bike-riding often does.

“We have at least one person who has chosen not to have a car. It depends on the weather. If it’s icy, she’s not gonna ride her bike. She’ll take the bus,” said payroll employee Vjera Thompson.

Thompson prefers the bus, because there’s a stop within shouting distance.

“We’re only a quarter-mile from the downtown bus station, right on the EmX line, and that gets me downtown very fast,” she said.

Pivot Architecture is another Eugene firm that encourages employees to find ways to drive less during the week. Pivot designed both the Eugene and Springfield bus terminals, so it follows that the firm is fully behind the bus option.

The savviest bosses know the rewards of sustainable practices don’t show up on a spreadsheet. They’re intangibles, like feeling the rain on your face or stopping to smell the roses in a neighbor’s garden. You don’t get that behind the wheel of a car.

Eugene’s motto, for the moment at least, might be this: Happy Trails.

The Business Commute Challenge is being managed by point2point Solutions.

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