By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
An interactive website aimed at pairing riders in carpool clubs and planning trips across Missoula using sustainable transportation went live this week, marking the first step in what advocates hope will reduce traffic congestion and cut down on air pollution.
Park the car just once a week and chances are good you’ll walk away with a gift card to one of the program’s many business sponsors.
On Tuesday, Missoula In Motion unveiled its long-awaited “Way to Go!” mobility tool, a program that connects commuters in like-minded carpool clubs, links to a real-time bus tracker app, and highlights different bike routes around the city.
The goal, according to Missoula In Motion program specialist Linzie Norman, is to increase the use of sustainable transportation and decrease the number of people driving alone in their car.
“We know Missoula’s population is growing,” said Norman before speaking with the Missoula Downtown Association. “We don’t have room to expand our roads and we’re not going to be able to build ourselves out of congestion. This is hopefully the solution to that.”
Now months in the making, that solution went live this week in a digital platform that permits interactive trip planning and enables users to track their transportation habits.
Individual commuters can list their starting point and destination to build carpool clubs, and employers can do the same, helping workers in certain shifts share their trips to and from the office. In doing so, it may help employers challenge their workers by fostering sustainable transportation.
Jessica Morriss, the city’s transportation manager, said the program already has the support of several large employers, including Providence St. Patrick Hospital, the University of Montana and the Partnership Health Center, among others.
“This product is going to allow us to give them the information they need so they can run with it,” Morriss said. “They can run their own challenges internally to encourage more folks to get out and ride the bus, walk or carpool.”
Launch of the digital platform comes just days after Climate Smart Missoula released the results of a detailed study that tracks the city’s carbon emissions.
The Missoula Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory found that the city emits roughly 913,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents each year, or roughly 10.8 metric tons per person.
“The goal is to help get the word out about all the different transportation options in Missoula,” Morriss said of the new program. “We’ve never had a place where you could go and find other people to carpool with in a very easy way. This is going to match people and let you post your own trips, and it’ll provide that direct connection people wouldn’t have on their own.”
After a lengthy review, Missoula In Motion selected RideAmigos to develop the new platform. The City Council approved the annual $16,000 contract earlier this year, hoping it will help change habits among commuters accustomed to their single-occupancy vehicle.
Aside from the carpool club, the platform also includes a “School Pool” for parents and a “Ski Pool” for those looking to catch a ride to Snowbowl.
It also offers different bike routes for riders of varying skills and bravery.
“It has two different options for every route,” said Norman. “It will show you a route that’s a little more comfortable that goes only on bike lanes or separate bike paths. It will also show you a more direct route that might be in traffic that might not always be safer for people with kids.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org