A ‘Nu’ way to cut campus emissions

A new program launched in January gives Medical School students, faculty and staff a way to earn discounts at restaurants and other rewards for driving fewer solitary miles. Known as NuRide, it’s an emerging national program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion by promoting alternatives to a solo trip in an automobile.

“The biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions connected to our campus is from cars,” said Melissa Lucas, manager of sustainability and energy efficiency. “Anything we can do to reduce individual vehicle trips is important.”

NuRide is a free service offered in Massachusetts through MassRIDES, the statewide travel options program of the Department of Transportation. The NuRide web-based tool tracks greener trips like walking, bike riding, carpooling, taking public transportation or even telecommuting. Any activity that avoids a solo trip in a car earns points that can be redeemed for rewards, such as discounts at many Massachusetts restaurants, two-for-one theater tickets, free ski lift tickets and savings on Peapod grocery deliveries, among many others. See the NuRide Massachusetts Facebook page for some of the recent reward updates.

“It doesn’t take that long to build up enough points for rewards,” said Daniel Allalemdjian, worksite outreach coordinator at MassRIDES. “Plus, the tool allows people to see how much money they have saved, and what the environmental benefit has been, by avoiding car trips.”

The Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care have been members of MassRIDES for years, so anyone with a school or clinical email account can use that e-mail address to sign up for NuRide.

“Not everyone can carpool on a regular basis, so with NuRide they can track and get credit for the occasional ride-share and for other green trips that aren’t even related to commuting,” Lucas said. “If you decided to take the train into Boston one Saturday, instead of driving, that counts. If you walk to the library instead of driving, that counts. If you work from home one day, it counts. So it all adds up, and it all helps benefit our regional environment.”

NuRide also has a web-based ride-sharing tool. The system displays a map marked with all “NuRiders” who live in a given community or region. Once people join NuRide, they can send messages through the system to other NuRiders who live in their community to see if there are opportunities to ride together on a sporadic or regular basis.

“We are seeing more carpooling to campus, and we continue to encourage that. With NuRide, however, everyone can participate, even if they aren’t official carpoolers,” Lucas said. “NuRide gives us all a way to make sure our green trips are credited toward our overall goal of reducing our campus carbon footprint. There’s no charge to participate, so I would encourage everyone to look at the NuRide site and give it a try.”