Challenge yourself: share the ride in regional transit campaign

March 29, 2011

Jim Fernandes knows about the importance of exercise and healthy living. That’s why he participated in last year’s SmartCommute Challenge, an annual spring campaign to encourage commuters to not drive alone to work or class.

As part of the campaign last April, Fernandes pedaled 12-miles between his home near Research Triangle Park to his office on West Campus as often as his schedule allowed.

“I like to challenge myself, and it sounded like fun,” said Fernandes, a physical therapist in Duke’s Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy. “Why not save a little gas and help the environment too?”

The SmartCommute Challenge, which runs April 1 to June 1, is coordinated by GoTriangle and SmartCommute@rtp to help reduce traffic and improve air quality. Participants can sign up for raffles for prizes like gift cards and join special events each week through mid-May.

The aim is to get Triangle area residents to try an alternative commute by riding a bus, carpooling, vanpooling, teleworking, biking, walking or riding an electric scooter. Duke offers various incentives for community members who use alternative transportation, including, among other perks, up to 24 free parking passes and discount bus passes. For more information, visit

Along with Fernandes, slightly more than 10,000 Triangle residents participated in the SmartCommute Challenge last year, cutting 3.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide – the equivalent carbon emissions of 85 Americans for an entire year.

“The Smart Commute challenge isn’t a big commitment – it’s trying new ways to commute to see which one works best for you,” said Brian Williams, Duke’s transportation demand coordinator. “You’ll likely save money and get time back in your day.”

Both those aspects – time and money – were found to be growing concerns for commuters recently by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. A recent study shows that stop-and-go traffic cost the average Triangle driver 22 gallons of gas and 25 extra hours in traffic in 2008 and 2009.

In addition to Fernandes, Duke employee Molly Starback participated in last year’s SmartCommute Challenge. Starback commutes to Duke by bus from Chapel Hill to her office on West Campus because it puts time back in her day.

“I don’t really like driving that much, so I prefer to take the bus so I can read and don’t have to deal with traffic,” said Starback, director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services. “Riding the bus gives me time to read for pleasure or get started on the day’s work before I get in the office.”