Foregoing a solo drive in favor of biking, busing, walking, or ridesharing can come with many satisfactions. From getting exercise to knowing you’re doing the environment a solid, using active (or other modes) transportation is a great thing to do.
But did you know that doing so frequently can also save you money at dozens of Whatcom County businesses?
That’s all thanks to Smart Trips, a community-wide program for residents and businesses that encourages active forms of transportation for a healthier lifestyle, while also reducing traffic congestion. As a program of the Whatcom Council of Governments, Smart Trips receives funding from the City of Bellingham, Whatcom Transportation Authority, and the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Smart Trips’ Discount Merchant Program — which has close to 100 participating businesses in Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale, and Blaine — allows customers to log their trips with trip dairies on the program’s website. Once customers have logged 10 trips annually, they’ll receive a discount card in the mail. This card provides savings on everything from food and beverages to bike accessories and wellness, recreation, and even pet care.
“It’s such a nice part of the incentive area of our program, that local businesses are willing to do this,” says Michelle Grandy, Smart Trips program manager. “Many of them have done it since the Smart Trips program started in July of 2006. They think it’s an important program for community members to participate in, so they want to reward people for it.”
Smart Trips = Smart Savings
Anyone who logs at least five Smart Trips per month is also entered into a $250 cash drawing, and a quarterly giveaway of $1,000 is offered for those taking five trips or more for three consecutive months.
There’s no fee to participate in the program, either for citizens or businesses. For the latter, participation essentially offers free promotion and a showcasing of their values, while also potentially soliciting new customers.
“There’s a lot of data out there that proves the more you can encourage people to ride or walk down the street, the more likely you are to get a new customer through that door,” says Grandy. “They have more time to look around and pay attention to the goods and services available in their community.”
Benefits for Employers
Nearly 200 county employers partner with Smart Trips to encourage their employees to bike, bus, walk, or carpool to work.
For those with 100 or more employees commuting between 6 and 9 a.m., Washington State’s Commute Trip Reduction Program actually requires businesses to encourage or assist workers with other transportation methods besides driving in a car alone.
Still, many of Smart Trips’ participating businesses aren’t big enough to have to follow state law, Grandy says, and simply choose to encourage their workers to be healthier, happier, and environmentally friendly in how they commute. Smart Trips provides businesses with education and encouragement, including bike classes, educational materials, and free bus passes provided by WTA to help people become familiar with their local transit system.
Some employers also offer their workers additional incentive.
PeaceHealth, which operates Bellingham’s St. Joseph Medical Center, offers caregivers a $1.50 daily stipend for each day they walk, bike, bus, or carpool when signed up for Smart Trips. Barbara Pongracz Lamb, a PeaceHealth communication specialist, says the company also has bike storage lockers at several buildings to support caregivers who bike to work.
How to Participate
Becoming part of the program is easy and involves a simple phone call or email to Smart Trips’ employer coordinator, Blanche Bybee. Each business then designates someone as their ‘employee transportation coordinator,’ and is the contact for Smart Trips to provide free resources.
For more detailed information on Smart Trips, please visit their website’s Frequently Asked Questions page.