By Paul Abling

The Climate Action Collaborative recently facilitated a commuter study to determine how people move around our valley. More than 1,600 residents participated in the study representing every town in our community. While we continue to crunch the data, we wanted to share a handful of interesting initial findings. Soon we’ll be sharing the entire study with our partners and the greater community.

Like many mountain resort communities, the Eagle River Valley has an issue — our average commute is 40 miles per day round trip. That is twice the national average of 20 miles. Many commuting long distances from downvalley to Vail and Avon travel even greater distances. Furthermore, the hilly terrain, unpredictable weather, and lack of a continuous bike path system don’t always encourage easy or efficient alternative commuting options.

“Alternative commuting” is any form of transport besides your personal single-occupancy vehicle. For this study, we focused on our local mass transit systems, biking/walking, e-bikes, carpooling, and working from home. 

Last year pollution from transportation accounted for approximately 36% of our local emissions. More importantly, transportation-related emissions (cars, trucks, buses, etc.) are on the rise and are projected to continue to increase as populations in Eagle County grow. This year more of our local pollution will come from transportation than any other source. If we are going to meet our Climate Action Plan goals to decrease local pollution 80% by 2050, we will need to address our transportation challenges.

Our recent Commuter Study aimed to determine what could be done to encourage everyone in our community to leave their car at home two times per week. It is estimated that this would result in a 17% decrease in local pollution each year. 88% of survey respondents reported being willing to commute twice a week, although, there are many barriers currently preventing it. 

To begin solving our commuting challenges we first need to know where people are commuting from and where they are working. A commute from Avon to Vail, in theory, should be pretty straightforward on the bus. But it is not that simple. Specific neighborhoods present different challenges. Many large communities that house our workforce are not currently set up for convenient bus travel (Wildridge, Eagle Ranch, Cotton Ranch, Cordillera, Singletree and others).

Some communities like Vail have great (and free) in-town bus systems, however, anyone that has tried to commute long distances requiring multiple bus transfers knows how frustrating, and time consuming, that can be. Overwhelmingly respondents reported that the bus schedule did not fit their work schedule and that it takes too long or lacks convenient bus stops near their home or work.

Predominantly, the most popular way to commute is by SOV. 32% of people surveyed prefer to drive their own car vs. taking the bus even though 67% report receiving a public transportation subsidy from their employer. Locals drive their personal vehicle an average of 3.5 days a week in the summer and four days a week in the winter. 

Not all SOVs are created equal. Technically an electric vehicle is more efficient than a vehicle with a traditional combustion engine. 92% of respondents currently do not own electric vehicles, however, 65% of respondents report that it is likely their next vehicle will be an electric or hybrid electric vehicle. In addition to being good for the environment and saving money on gas EV owners highlight them being fun to drive and providing better parking opportunities.

Perhaps the best way to keep people out of their cars is to keep them from going to the office, however, as a resort community, much of our workforce reported an inability to work from home. Large industry segments including lodging, retail and dining do not have the ability to work remotely. 64% report being able to work from home and 91% of employers surveyed reported that since COVID-19 their willingness to allow employees to work from home has increased.

Regardless of your situation, we realize this is a large challenge and behavior to change. It will not be something that will happen overnight.

Instead, think about small steps you can take to help us meet our goal each day. Maybe you have been working at home recently and feel your employer might be willing to make it a more regular thing? Perhaps you could justify the purchase of an e-bike if you were using it to commute to work?

Maybe instead of driving to the grocery store you could walk or take your bike? Together as we take these small steps we can reach our goal to reduce our emissions by 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. Via the Climate Action Collaborative, we will continue to work at eliminating barriers that prevent us, as a community, from leaving the car behind.