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Gorge challenge: drive less

— With the average price of gas hovering around $3.50 per gallon just this month, there are already a lot of reasons for Oregonians to reconsider the amount of time and money they spend on driving each week. The Oregon Drive Less Challenge, kicking off Monday, Oct. 21, gives them even more incentive to do just that.

Drive less challenge

Individuals interested in joining the Oregon Drive Less Challenge can sign up by registering for free at www.DriveLessConnect.com/challenge and then logging their carpool, vanpool, telework, bus, rail, walk, bike and skate trips on the trip log calendar. Those who pledge to take the challenge in advance can also request informational mode kits that include a free travel tool that makes using transportation options more comfortable, safer or fun while supplies last. Example items include a free pedometer or leg strap for cycling.

Local assistance from Commute Options and MCEDD is available to aid individuals in finding carpools and/or vanpools, navigating bus schedules and routes, determining bike routes and answering questions about the Drive Less Challenge. In addition, a variety of local resources about bus service, car/vanpool programs, biking and walking throughout the Mid-Columbia Gorge region are available at the Gorge TransLink website, www.gorgetranslink.com.

Conducted by Commute Options, Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the challenge is set up to encourage people to become more aware of the number of alternative transportation options available to them in their local communities.

The challenge organizers hope to not only raise awareness about the amount of money the individual can save by regularly using public transportation, but also aims to have a positive impact on the environment by reducing the amount of CO2 in the air regularly produced by single-occupant vehicle use.

The goal is to reduce half a million vehicle miles traveled between Oct. 21 and Nov. 1 by having participants log their trips online at DriveLessConnect.com, replace one trip they normally drive alone and use an alternative mode of transportation instead.

“It’s best to choose a trip that you make regularly in order to have the most positive impact,” Scott Turnoy of MCEDD and the Gorge TransLink Alliance said.

Participating individuals 18 and older who either live or work in the state of Oregon have the opportunity to take part in the challenge and be rewarded for taking advantage of public or alternative transportation options.

“The more times participants log trips at www.DriveLessConnect.com, the greater their chances are to win prizes,” said Turnoy. “Thanks to our statewide sponsors Wells Fargo and Bike Friday, participants can win a wide variety of prizes, including a custom-built bike, folding bikes, Oregon vacation packages, and gift cards to REI, Apple, Nike and Keen.”

While some already know about the various ways they can get around the Columbia Gorge without using their cars, regular alternative transit-user Crystal Davis-Ross believes many more should.

“Most people seem to think that if you live in the Gorge and you don’t have a car, then you’re out of luck… but that’s just not true,” she said. “There are tons of options around here, and I think a lot more people need to get on board.”

Davis-Ross says she hates making the commute from The Dalles to Hood River during the rainy winter season, and that the Gorge TransLink (an alliance of transportation providers in the Columbia Gorge, which include the Link and Columbia Area Transit, better known as the Link and CAT) systems allow her to not only avoid the dangerous driving conditions, but also to save money and still have enough time for a cup of coffee before work when the bus delivers her at Hood River at 7:20 in the morning.

“It’s a whole lot better than gripping the steering wheel and grinding your teeth the entire way,” she said with a laugh. “We live in a beautiful place, so it’s nice when you can sit back and take the time to really enjoy it and leave the worrying to somebody else.”

Dan Shwanz, director of both the Link and CAT transportation service providers, said that one of the things both organizations aim to do through supporting the Drive Less Challenge is to raise awareness about these “many different transportation options” and encourage people to use them instead of “relying on a single-occupancy vehicle.”

Davis-Ross’ daily round trip from The Dalles to Hood River and back costs her $6 a day taking the a.m. CAT bus, she said. Shwanz said that rides from The Dalles to Hood River are offered three times a day, five days a week and are $3 each way. Turnoy also said he makes use of the TransLink bus route to Portland in order to make the commute from Portland to The Dalles four times a week.

And there are lots of other ways to use the local TransLink systems, too.

Dial-a-Rides on the Link bus are available in The Dalles area and are $1.50 each way, and completely free for children 6 and under when accompanied by an adult. Other CAT buses like the one Davis-Ross uses can be caught on Tuesday and Thursdays from The Dalles or Hood River that go all the way to Portland and back, where the traveler can choose one of four spots to be dropped off and picked up. The entire cost of the journey there and back comes to a grand total of $8.

“If someone wanted to do something in Portland, there’s no better way to get there,” Shwanz said. “It’s fun, it’s easy and it’s cheap.”

The most popular of the Portland stops is the Gateway MAX Station, which allows the traveler to go almost anywhere in the city with just an extra hop on the train. Other destinations include the Portland Art Museum, located in the downtown area and only a few blocks away from Powell’s Books and the Saturday Market locations, in addition to stops at the Clackamas Town Center mall and OHSU.

There are various pick-up points in both The Dalles and Hood River where you can wait for your bus, including Columbia Gorge Community College, The Dalles and Hood River Transportation Centers and Mosier’s Pocket Park, among others.

“Right now,” Turnoy said, “a lot of people new to the area – and even locals – see (the Link or CAT bus) and don’t know it’s for them, too.”

Part of the central purpose of the challenge, Turnoy said, is to change that and to help make future transportation options available to residents of the Columbia Gorge better suited to their needs.

When asked who she thought could benefit from using local transportation services, Davis-Ross replied without hesitation.

“Absolutely everybody!” she said. “Everyone should use it at least once. To not have to drive for even just a day can make a huge difference.”

Turnoy, who works on the county level and directly with transport providers, said that the Drive Less Challenge and, by extension, the TransLink service network are focused on creating both “cost-saving” and “environmental” benefits for their users.

“We’re not in the market to make money, but to serve people and to be as useful as possible,” he said.

Turnoy intends to use data gleaned from challenge participants’ use of the Drive Less Connect website in order to work on improving transport connections between Columbia Gorge counties and to “create a more efficient system for regional mobility.”

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