We don’t get too far into the conversation about greenhouse gas and air pollution before we find ourselves grappling with the topic of personal car use. Twenty-seven percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, and recent City of Toronto findings show that locally generated air pollution are mainly from transportation sources.

Enter Shuttle Challenge, a pilot program designed by Summerhill Impact with grant funding from TAF. Over the past year, Shuttle has been quietly experimenting with a smart, measurable program to help drivers curb pollution by reducing their fuel use. The approach is simple: reduce your fuel consumption and driving distance by 10% against your baseline and you get a reward.

How do you do it? Start by re-thinking your driving style. Efficient driving behaviour alone has the potential to improve fuel economy by 10-15%. Shuttle participants get an online eco-driving course to remind them of the impacts of their driving behaviour. Curbing certain behaviours such as of jack-rabbity starts and hard braking, or how exceeding the speed limit increases fuel consumption (I hear my own Dad’s voice here!), are just a few of the suggestions that can lead to fuel efficiency. Leaving the car at home one day a week is another method, as is consolidating your weekend shopping trips and errands.

With these and other methods in mind, and two weeks of regular driving patterns recorded in a baseline study, Shuttle participants received real-time data to let them know how their changes were playing out. While this part was a bit rocky – beta-testing and refining four personal auto data collection technologies isn’t easy – it was essential to the overall process, underscoring the fact that immediate feedback loops keep people motivated and on track (think weekly weigh-ins at Weight Watchers). And, like enjoying a nice, guilt-free dessert after a week of calorie counting, Shuttle participants meeting or exceeding their targets were rewarded with free tanks of gas to help them enhance the fuel-cost savings they were already creating by their new behaviour.

Of the 536 participants who completed the program, 305 (57%) achieved their 10% goal and most found the program highly beneficial. The video below features interviews with a few participants.

Based on this pilot, Summerhill estimates that if just 10% of drivers in the GTHA participated in the program, we could reduce GHG emissions by 64 megatonnes.

Next up, using lessons learned from the pilot study, Summerhill and its partners are considering ways to mount this successful program on a larger scale, leveraging growing interest in the Pay as You Drive (PAYD) auto insurance concept to help build even more benefits for eco-conscious drivers.  So go ahead, retrofit your driving habits – it’s probably one of the most effective ways you can reduce your personal carbon footprint.

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