This summer, ditch unpredictable gas prices and hit-and-miss parking for something a little bit easier--public transportation.
As part of the "Chicago Climate Action Plan," the Chicago Chamber of Commerce recently made it a goal to increase Chicago's public transportation to 1 billion riders within the next five to ten years.
"The chamber has a long history in focusing on public transportation," said Chicago Chamber of Commerce President, Lance Pressl. "We wanted to decrease our carbon footprint, and we have been interested in promoting ridership."
The chamber of commerce enlisted InnoCentive, an innovative solution company that has contacts based around the world, in order to find ideas on how Chicago can improve its transportation system.
Founded in 2005, InnoCentive works with countries around the world--Japan, Sweden, Russia, etc.--to get bright minds with great ideas on solutions, said Vice President of Sales, Jon Fredrickson.
"There have been a number of green challenges that we have worked with," said Fredrickson. "With challenges that involve sustainability we have received a lot of solution ideas, especially when it involved the good of society or the good of the people."
For this challenge, Chicago received about 125 solutions from multiple international destinations and from local Chicago public transportation riders, said Pressl. Some of the submissions varied from a paragraph to about 50 pages.
The winning solution dealt with two areas of public transportation; the frequency of trips and accessibility for riders, according to Aaron Renn, the Solver.
"His solution was the most comprehensive," said Pressl. "It really covered a wide spectrum of issues. The quality and depth of his responses outshined everyone."
Renn, who splits his time between Chicago and Indianapolis, said that there is no easy, silver bullet solution when it comes to improving public transportation.
"In order to increase trips, I looked at the areas where ridership was heavier," said Renn. "By increasing trips within the Loop area, it would help economic development and employment within that area."
Renn also examined the factors that determine whether a rider will use public transportation or use a car.
"Most people make their decisions based on price, time and quality," said Renn.
One of Renn's short term solutions involved changing public transportation prices to meet riders' demands.
"During peak hours it is more affordable for me to pay $4.50 to ride the train versus the $29 I would be spending in parking fees and gas to get to work," said Renn. "But when I go to dinner with my wife at night during off-peak hours when parking is free, why would I spend $9 for the two of us to get there? If it cost less during off-peak hours, there would be a larger incentive for people to use public transportation."
With the recession and the city's budget, short term solutions were another attractive part of Renn's overall submission.
"I think some things can be implemented with current budget," said Pressl. "We have forwarded all the submissions along with the winners to all the major transit agencies. We have received feedback from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) already, and they committed to us that they would review the solutions."
Along with Renn's solution, the chamber of commerce is looking into three other possible solutions for long-term ideas on how to improve the system. Honorees include Susan Beth Thomas who came up with a plan for solar roofs along the CTA system, Olympia Moy who came up with a public transportation pass that would offer discounted prices on yearly passes, and John Whelan who suggested using carbon credits and increasing positive advertising.
While all of the winners were from the Chicagoland area, Fredrickson said that is not always the case.
"It was definitely an advantage because I understand the system and I can make specific recommendations," said Renn. "There is also a benefit for outsiders because sometimes an outside look offers a completely new perspective."
Renn also believes it is important for cities and companies to recognize the benefits of crowd-sourcing companies like InnoCentive.
"When you work within a company you're probably not going to rock the boat," said Renn. "It can be very expensive to develop ideas and they may not be ideas that work. With a contest like this you can receive multiple ideas and outside people are free to say whatever they want."
Crowd-sourcing may become very helpful with the green movement in metropolitan areas. For now, Chicago is focused on making green practices part of the DNA of businesses rather than forcing them to implement something, and focused on making Chicago a global center for green businesses, said Pressl. Public transportation is just a start for the city.
"The mayor has made green practices one of his focal points," said Pressl. "We think that cities and regions that connect the dots to make cities and businesses more sustainable will have an advantage. We know we can't continue to build a growth economy without being a sustainable growth economy."
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