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Residents Dump the Pump Thursday

National Dump the Pump Day has people leaving their car keys at home in favor of public transit.

Burr Ridge resident Kristin Edmonds will be commuting by train today, as she does three days every week.

“With gas prices so high, I think people should take the train, but it’s hard to get everyone to stop driving so much,” said Edmonds. The 25-year-old said she and her family prefer taking the Metra to the traffic and high cost of parking in the city.

“It’s quick and I can study,” said Edmonds, a student at The John Marshall Law School. Edmonds said her mother rides up to five times a week. “She loves it.”

Cutting costs by taking public transit and limiting how much people drive are the goals of the sixth annual National Dump the Pump Day Thursday, a joint effort of the American Public Transportation Association, Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“National Dump the Pump Day is a public awareness day that encourages people to save money by parking the car and using public transportation instead,” said Virginia Miller, APTA senior media relations manager. “To get people to change their travel behavior, you need a good motivator. Money is a great motivator."

According to the APTA’s monthly Transit Savings Report, if two-car households downsized to one car, they could each save $10,000 a year on average, when taking into account maintenance fees, gas prices and parking costs.

According to Miller, a turning point in ridership for people in the Chicago area happened when gasoline hit $3 a gallon in 2005.

“It was a precursor of what was to come,” said Miller. Although gas prices eventually fell, they rose to $3 a gallon again in 2006.

“People were angry and upset,” said Miller. “Financial savings brought people to public transportation … [and] higher ridership stuck...Once people have tried it, they decide to stick with it.”

According to the Regional Transportation Asset Management System, a transportation information retrieval system developed by the RTA, numbers for ridership on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Metra line have gone up.  The BNSF line is the one which services people who live in the Burr Ridge and Hinsdale area. RTAMS shows the total number of people taking the Metra rose from 1,219, 049 in 2004 to 1,358,189 in April of 2011.

“It’s one step along the way to maybe changing habits,” said Diane Palmer, deputy executive director of communications for the Regional Transportation Authority. The RTA oversees Metra, the Pace Suburban Bus Service and the Chicago Transit Authority.

More than 30 transit systems nationwide will be involved in the "Dump the Pump" campaign, including transportation systems in Alaska, Florida and Illinois.

The RTA is running a contest that invites those in the Chicago area to “dump the pump” by riding on public transit and then explain how they did it in a post to the RTA’s YouTube channel, Facebook page or Twitter page.

Prizes for the contest include free transit passes and gift cards, an Amazon Kindle and two iPod Shuffles. Participants have until Friday to post, and winners will be announced on Monday.

The benefits of mass transit are both financial and environmental, Palmer said.

In addition to spending reduction, driving less also leads to a drop in the number of carbon emissions.

According to a recent APTA press announcement, “More than one-quarter of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Public transportation saves more than 37 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year—that’s the equivalent to the emissions generated to power every household in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles combined."

“If you’re a person who cares about energy independence, public transportation can feel really good,” Miller said.

Riders say another advantage of riding the train is that it takes some of the stress out of their daily commute.

“I take the train because it’s much easier than driving,” said Hinsdale resident Mary Nelson. She echoed Edmonds' sentiments that taking the train saves time, expense and difficulties trying to park in the city.

Although Burr Ridge does not have a train stop, Edmonds said she appreciates that the Hinsdale one is so close by.

“I’m glad we have the option,” said Edmonds.

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