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  1. #1
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    Why would people both to enter commuter challenges?

    A couple of months ago there was a contest between various universities to see which school could get the most people to record bike commutes in a given month. Now the city of Austin is about to offer a second such competition. The idea is that you get a bunch of people together to form a team, log your bike commutes, errands, etc. and get points for each trip. Whichever team has the most points will earn the "Austin Commuter Challenge" trophy. Details here: http://www.austincommuterchallenge.com/

    My question is: Do such promotions work? Do they motivate anyone?

    I bike commute almost every day but I don't want to take the time to form a team, compete against people I don't know and take the time to enter all my rides in on a regular basis, all for the dream of winning a trophy. I already commute so this contest is not changing my behavior and hence my participation in it provides no added environmental benefit. Furthermore, if I don't want to participate and all I would have to do is record rides I already take, how likely is it to motivate someone who uses drives to ditch the perceived convenience of a car and ride the bike? Maybe if they were already really interested. Maybe if they were already planning to ride in once the mornings are warmer (as they will be in May, the month of the contest).

    Call me a skeptic. I'd rather they just give out beverages downtown to morning commuters, hold some special event, or give out commuter t-shirts. But if they are going to do a contest, who wants to compete for a trophy? How about a ride and bbq at Lance's house? Or a new bike? But a trophy.

    I would like to be excited about this event. For some reason I am worked up enough about it to post this message. Am I missing something?

  2. #2
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    I don't know if they motivate anyone......but competition is simple part of human nature....and people always find a way to compete in their own niche.

    I think that these can work.. in that you get one evangelizer/organizer at a company/school/church/neighborhood and you can get a lot of people trying commuting who would not normally try on their own. If you get a few people to keep it up it is win.

    And marketing types say you have always keep awareness up so it is at minimum good marketing.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kojak's Avatar
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    When I worked at Verizon Wireless, I was actually astonished at how much these contests did in fact motivate my co-workers to commute. There were people I would have never expected to see on a bike riding in during the month of May (hmm.. could have been June, anyway) for the "Bike to Work" month. The local cycling club/advocate organization (Cascade Bicycle Club) had a section of their website dedicated to companies and organizations logging and tracking their miles. It was acutally pretty cool (meaning that it was cool that people came out of the woodwork riding their bikes into work). The coolest part was; every year it seemed that we turned a couple of the participants into consistent if not hardcore commuters. Oddly enough, it works.
    Last edited by Kojak; 04-02-09 at 01:36 PM.
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  4. #4
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    It does work! Setting goals in a group dynamic is very powerful.

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  5. #5
    Laid back bent rider unixpro's Avatar
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    I've done events like this in the past, and they're really no big deal. The teams are usually made up of people who work together and already know each other, so forming them isn't a difficult thing. Recording your miles amounts to going to some website and filling in a form. Again, nothing special.

    The reward at the end of the contest is usually what drives people. A trophy wouldn't do it for me, but something like a $50 gift card would. They also need to have different classes so a team with 9 people isn't compared against a team with 3.

    For the most part, though, it's about bragging. Who has the longest commute in your group? Who does the most recreational riding? That kind of thing.

  6. #6
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    Yeah, competition is good and can be fun. I guess part of the problem for me is the nature of this competition. It is against people I can't see, involving an activity that I cannot personally increase (I can't bike to work 8 days a week), for a prize that would be shared among a team of people who probably have little interest in owning the prize, a trophy, anyway. Many competitions have prizes that themselves may not be valuable but are worth something because of the status of winning a contest for which one must train, achieve a certain level of athletic prowess, etc. In my mind, the Austin Commuter Challenge Trophy just indicates that a group of people with similar degrees of willingness to bike commute got together. I would guess that the people most likely to win this contest are not a bunch of cagers but rather a crew of people who already bike commute. Maybe they will recruit a cager or two.

    I get that in theory some people will bother to participate in this contest. But it just annoys me because it seems so lame to me, despite the fact that I support the cause.

    Rant over for now.

  7. #7
    Seņior Member ItsJustMe's Avatar
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    I certainly wouldn't bother. I'd rather pull fingernails than do paperwork. Having to log my miles would take a lot of the pleasure out of riding.

    If someone wanted to do all the paperwork, and I could just say "110 miles a week, you deal with it." then I guess I might participate.

    Honestly though, the surest way for me to lose interest in anything is to make it a competition. I'm happy to do things that are fun, but the minute you put me up against someone else, I walk away. I'm not interested in judging myself against others, I judge myself against my own goals.

    I will say that up until a few years ago, the place I work at had a program where you logged your exercise minutes, and if you hit 1000 minutes per quarter, you got a $50 gift card. I just had to open up a spreadsheet, stick my name at the bottom, then fill in minutes every week or so, and collect $200/year. I did that.

    Then the PR people got involved, and they came up with all kinds of "challenges" and "lose weight this winter" crap, and they started giving away prizes and dinners and stuff instead of cash, and I walked away.
    Last edited by ItsJustMe; 04-02-09 at 01:42 PM.
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  8. #8
    Cold Rain and Snow Hot Potato's Avatar
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    Well, its not just you. I achieve a lot more setting my own goals, and marching to my own beat, than I ever would participating in promotions. Motivation, like esteem, is best when it comes from one's self.
    Quietly elevating being dropped to an art form

  9. #9
    Senior Member Kimmitt's Avatar
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    So a close friend really needed to lose weight for health reasons, but he kept putting it off. Too much life stress, etc. Anyways, one day him, his wife, and his daughter got together and made a bet; whoever lost the most weight in the next six months got $100 or some such.

    Wife and daughter made some minor life mods and didn't worry about it too much. Guy took this as the impetus to go ahead and do a major overhaul and lost 30 pounds. Best thing that he could've done.

    Short answer is: for some folks, it's irrelevant. For others, it's an excuse to try something new, get around to something that's been waiting, or get serious about something. But as this thread shows, it's one of those things that vary tremendously between people.

  10. #10
    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    I was deeply involved in a website my organization developed called the "EnergyChallenge". People could pledge to take energy saving actions and it would calculate a CO2 savings from whatever it was they chose.

    Part of the site involved signing up for teams and the team "standings" (base on CO2 savings) were prominently displayed on the site. Teams were divided into categories such as businesses, neighborhoods, cities, congregations, schools, etc. You could join up to 3 teams.

    Let me tell you that the team competition thing was tremendously motivational. Both my sons school and our church really got into it.

    As far as losing weight goes, we had an office "biggest loser" contest. It had the side affect, along with the creation of a commuter board, of increasing the number of bicycle commuters.
    If you're not riding with a psychedelic gecko on your shirt, you ARE having a substandard experience.

  11. #11
    Senior Member swwhite's Avatar
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    I entered a "commuter challenge" once and won, in a drawing, a $100 gift certificate at a local bike shop. I combined it with my Christmas gift money from my father-in-law and bought a folding bicycle. I then used the folding bicycle to expand my commuting capabilities, using it, for example, on days when I have to take the car in for repairs.

    However, the challenge did not motivate me, really. I entered because I knew I could meet the challenge because I already was riding to work three to five days a week.
    Riding in search of the simple life.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Tyrell's Avatar
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    Hey Socbike, part of the reasoning behind the Austin commuter challenge is so that participants will map out their regular rides via MapMyRide. Overlaying all these ride routes will create a sort of heat-map, indicating where bikes actually ride in the city. This will provide information on where new bikes lanes are needed, etc. This seems like a much better idea than city planners randomly placing bike lanes where they *think* that bike riders wil use them.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tyrell View Post
    Hey Socbike, part of the reasoning behind the Austin commuter challenge is so that participants will map out their regular rides via MapMyRide. Overlaying all these ride routes will create a sort of heat-map, indicating where bikes actually ride in the city. This will provide information on where new bikes lanes are needed, etc. This seems like a much better idea than city planners randomly placing bike lanes where they *think* that bike riders wil use them.
    This is a good goal but I wonder whether this is a good method to gather such data. My guess is that the picture emerging from the MapMyRide data in the Commuter Challenge could easily be as skewed as city planners guessing where riders ride. It boils down to the question of whether those who participate in the commuter challenge will be a representative sample of bike commuters in town or not. My guess is not. To the extent that riders are encouraged to enter together in workplace teams, riders from workplaces with such teams will be overrepresented as will the pathways to the location of their workplace. In contrast, workers who don't have/recruit colleagues willing to commute probably won't participate and thus their routes will be underrepresented or omitted altogether. Furthermore, my guess is that this contest is likely to attract more participation from affluent/educated/easy-internet-access members of the community who bike by choice and less likely to involve poorer members of the community with less internet access, who in some cases may bike or ride the bus because it is their only viable means of transportation. They likely live in different places from the affluent participants and in some cases, they may work in different areas too, so their commuting paths are likely to be much different.

    In short, it is not clear to me that this contest would provide reliable data about the overall commuting patterns of Austinites. A well-informed city planner might do better.

    On the other hand, I will concede that this might generate useful data about the relative traffic on two nearby roads like Red River and Trinity and therefore help with deciding which makes more sense to support cyclists on. (Although in this example, it would probably be biased by the superior accomodations already in place on Trinity.)

  14. #14
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    If you are college age and a student who lives close enough to campus to be able to commute by bicycle, you should be ashamed of yourself if you drive. Period. End of story.

    OOps...I see that this is about everyone being challenged to commute, not just college students. My bad.

    Still, I am always somewhat bewildered when I see able bodied young people driving 5 miles and even less on a regular basis only because they are too lazy to walk or ride. It is simply amazing to me.
    Last edited by baron von trail; 04-03-09 at 11:29 AM.

  15. #15
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    My employer had a similar challenge to promote physical activity. I figured bike commuting was a great way to get regular physical activity, so I formed a team around that theme partly to promote bicycle commuting around here, and partly to network with other bicycle commuters or people who might be candidates for trying it out.

    We've made the min requirements, now, to be entered in a drawing for 100 award points, each. The points are good for merchandise and gift cards. Not bad.
    "The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people..." -James Agee, Fortune, September 1934

  16. #16
    Senior Member Tyrell's Avatar
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    Well then I'd say don't do it if you feel like it's such a bad idea. In the end, it is hopefully going to get more people at least trying out bikes as a form of transportation instead of reaching for the car keys any time they need to go down the street a couple blocks. I think that's really the point. For people that already use bikes on a regular basis, this is nothing to get excited about unless you want ot win what is at stake.

  17. #17
    Dances With Cars TRaffic Jammer's Avatar
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    Leadership and Group Dynamics 101... it's works.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tyrell View Post
    Well then I'd say don't do it if you feel like it's such a bad idea. In the end, it is hopefully going to get more people at least trying out bikes as a form of transportation instead of reaching for the car keys any time they need to go down the street a couple blocks. I think that's really the point. For people that already use bikes on a regular basis, this is nothing to get excited about unless you want ot win what is at stake.
    I don't expect to participate formally. My whole point is that I assume more people would participate if they had better incentives. I note that no one here has said they would be motivated by the dream of winning a commuter challenge trophy. Since they have gone to the trouble to put together websites, promotion, get sponsors, involve politicians, etc., I am puzzled why they don't have better incentives for participation.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by TRaffic Jammer View Post
    Leadership and Group Dynamics 101... it's works.
    Hmmm . . . yeah, well it could work better. Did they teach you that people respond well to incentives in leadership and group dynamics 101? From the published materials, the only in incentive for all participants in this city wide contest is 1 trophy? Would you give such a plan an A in your course? I would not.

  20. #20
    Dances With Cars TRaffic Jammer's Avatar
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    Not specifically, but incentives, be they for the group or an individual works wonders. It's amazing what people will do just for bragging rights or a tee shirt. L and GD 101 are fictitious , the gamut of Leadership course is much more varied than that.

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