To see an example of a RideShark user page, visit www.rideshark.com/RideSharkDemo.aspx.
Take a bike ride, get a restaurant discount.
Board the bus, pick up a free movie ticket.
Walk to lunch for a month, earn an extra vacation day at work.
There are all kinds of potential payoffs for getting out of the car in Chattanooga's developing Green Trips program.
The three-year, $600,000 pilot program is funded under a federal clean-air program. But organizers say reducing auto emissions is just one benefit of luring more people to walk, bike, carpool or use public transit on their daily commutes or trips around town.
Another payoff is helping people get healthier, said Sharon Lewinson, president of the company expected to be chosen as a vendor for the Green Trips program.
"Health is a huge, huge issue in North America right now -- rising physical inactivity rates, obesity and diabetes," Lewinson said.
Lewinson's Ottawa, Canada-based company, RideShark, is a worldwide provider of what's known as transportation demand management programs -- making the most efficient use of existing and future planned infrastructure.
"All of North America has the perception that the way cities have been built, people think they need a car," she said. But in an integrated transportation network, "you're not always forced, because there's no options, into driving alone."
RideShark's part in Chattanooga's Green Trips program will be to set up and run an incentives-based website where users can log trips to earn points good for prizes, meet carpooling partners or find the best bike route from home to work.
"Behavioral change happens when you're able to make sure people understand options, they're easy and convenient to use and they're integrated," Lewinson said.
The website also will document and measure the cost and pollution savings from growth in the use of alternate transportation.
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization is set to vote Dec. 18 to contract with RideShark for the program.
Jenny Park, coordinator of the Green Trips program for the transportation planning agency, sees getting large employers into the program as key. They can blend Green Trips incentives into their own employee benefit and community relations programs and customize the RideShark website with their own brands and incentives.
"For example, Enterprise South is a cluster of major employers that carpooling would be a very viable option for," she said.
Some employers could qualify for tax breaks to reward employees who bike or use transit, Park said.
She'll also be inviting local businesses to join the incentive program.
"We want the program to encourage people to visit local businesses," Park said.
She hopes Green Trips will start operating in the spring.
"It's just a carrot," Park said. "We don't want to punish anyone for driving or not participating in the program. The intent is to get information to people about what their options are. We all know that driving is expensive and getting more expensive."
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...