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Pollution Punchcard Contest Inspires Alternative Commutes

Alameda County Safe Routes to School Logo

Community Story written and posted by BAAQMD, July 2009.

County: Alameda

Population: 1,556,657




The Pollution Punchcard Contest seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shifting transportation habits toward non and less polluting modes of travel to and from schools in Alameda County. The Pollution Punchcard Contest began as a pilot project and was then modified to be replicated throughout Alameda County. The school program serves as an annual encouragement contest to inspire students and parents to drive less.

Program Highlights

  • After an initial pilot in three schools, the contest was revamped and implemented in ten schools the following school year, reaching 3,000 elementary school students.

  • Contest succeeded in motivating entire school to try new behaviors of walking, biking, and riding the bus to school.

  • Parents and principals loved the contest and plan to continue implementing it.

Lessons Learned

  • Simpler is better – the initial contest was too complex and difficult to implement, the revamped contest worked much better.

  • Small incentives work get kids excited and participating.

  • Program flexibility allowed for creative adaptations for each school.

  • Allowing the parent volunteers to coordinate the contest provided a more meaningful and self-sustained contest inspired by the imagination of the parents.

Resources to learn more

The Rest of the Story…

The Safe Routes to Schools Alameda County Partnership Program works to reduce driving and increase walking, biking, and other non-polluting modes of travel to schools. The Pollution Punchcard Contest is a component of the Safe Routes to School Program. The Pollution Punchard Contest was used as a motivation burst to jump start the second half of the year-round Safe Routes to School Program.

Outreach for the contest was conducted school-wide through principal and parent newsletters, “e-trees,” and flyers sent home. All students were invited and encouraged to participate and materials were sent home via classrooms. Parent volunteers set up prize stations each week to reward participating students who keep track of their walking/biking trips on a small “Pollution Punchcard” calendar. Instant prizes reward students each week and larger raffle prizes are distributed at the end of the month-long contest.

Although an elaborate methodology to measure the exact greenhouse gas emission reductions was initially proposed, we quickly discovered that the implementation of such a methodology was untenable. The contest was re-tooled to serve as an encouragement tool that fits well into a larger strategy. The program’s influence on mode shifts were measured using student and parent surveys conducted during the fall and the spring of each year. The surveys demonstrated a mode shift of between 5-10% (depending on the city) for the first year of operation, 2007-2008.

In future years, we hope to tie the Pollution Punchcard Contest more closely to lessons in the Safe Routes Schools Teachers Guide. Many of the 15 lessons contain environmental themes.

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