McMaster University and Mohawk College have been recognized for their commitment to improving commutes for their students and employees.

The sixth-annual Smart Commute Awards event honoured McMaster with the Hamilton Employer of the Year award and awarded Parsons Brinkerhoff Employee Engagement Award to Mohawk. The awards recognize members of the Smart Commute program, which aims to ease gridlock and improve transportation across the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.

Both schools have started several initiatives to encourage their staff and students to find alternate modes of communication and reduce their carbon footprint.

At McMaster, they’ve improved bicycle parking on campus with more than 1,300 bike parking spaces and three options for bicycle storage on campus. They also created options for car pooling and flexible parking passes.

Kate Whalen, Senior Manager of University Sustainability at McMaster, explained flexible parking passes work as a financial incentive to leave the car at home occasionally.

With monthly passes, drivers are less likely to ditch the car, she explained.

"The day that it’s beautiful and they could take their bike, they might choose not to because they’ve already paid for parking for that day,"

With the flex pass program, instead of paying for an entire month, drivers purchase 10 permits in advance for the month and can use them whenever they need. It’s cheaper than paying the daily fee of $20 but not as much as a monthly pass--and it’s already quite popular.

"We have a number of people taking advantage of the program already, far more than we were anticipating," she said, adding exact numbers for the program will be analyzed at the end of the year to determine the success and ways to improve.

The key, she said, is offering a variety of ways for students, staff and faculty to make different transportation choices while leaving room for convenience.

"Flexibility is a big part of our strategy," she said. "We want to make it easy for you to increase your motivation to make sustainable transportation choices."

At Mohawk, their focus is on changing behaviour and making staff and students aware of all the options out there besides driving themselves to campus. Some of their initiatives have included a carpool matching system that allows commuters to find individuals with similar schedules to share rides as well as a Secure Bike Parking Program to encourage more cycling by providing secure facilities.

"We’ve had continued success year after year; every time we run an event we see an increase in attendance," Alan Griffiths, Mohawk’s Sustainable Environment Specialist, said.

"People are starting to see continuity," he said. It’s not just a passing fad. This is something Mohawk is committed to."