Carpool, trip logs and route maps included in new digital platform

A web-based platform by RideAmigos will include route maps, showing expedient ways to get around Missoula without a vehicle. Missoula In Motion plans to roll out the new program this spring. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Missoula In Motion plans to unveil a new website this spring to help commuters plan their non-motorized trips, log their miles and build carpool clubs – all designed to cut down on traffic congestion and improve air quality.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee approved Missoula In Motion’s request to secure a $16,000 annual contract with RideAmigos, a digital platform that permits interactive trip planning and enables users to track their transportation habits.

“The tool is user friendly and easy to integrate into the things you’re already doing,” said Linzie Norman, program specialist with MIM. “We’re confident this will increase sustainable transportation, reduce single-occupancy vehicle use, and ultimately reduce our carbon footprint.”

Jessica Morriss, the city’s transportation planning manager, said MIM selected RideAmigos after a lengthy search. The web-based platform offers a number of tools, including the most efficient bike routes to certain locations around the city.

It also enables mobile-friendly trip logging and creates networking opportunities. That, Morriss said, will enable businesses to implement their own incentives, encouraging employees to leave their car at home and find another way to get to work.

Morriss said Missoula in Motion plans to implement the platform in April or May.

“We’re trying to get everything launched and beta tested prior to that,” she said. “We’re going to work with some of our partners to beta test. From a larger public perspective, we’ll have some marketing that will go along with the rollout.”

For those who cannot bike to work, the platform also offers a carpool matching service, helping users identify and connect with others whose commute aligns with their own. MIM believes the function may be one of the most popular features.

“Out of all the things this platform does, the biggest thing is carpool matching and the ability to set up networks,” said Morriss. “Right now, one of the main components of MIM is to work with businesses and employers to try to get their employees to use different transportation options.”

While the committee approved MIM’s contract with RideAmigos, the vote wasn’t unanimous. Ward 1 council member Heidi West opposed it.

“I’m skeptical this is going to create behavior change,” said West. “People have the tools to use alternative transportation now, and it’s not so much an app or website that’s going to change that. It’s going to take a bigger change in our expectations.”

Ward 2 council member Jordan Hess disagreed, saying conservation costs less than downtown parking garages and wider roads.

“This is a great way to make commuting social, to use game theory and to engage people on a deeper level than we do right now,” said Hess. “The cost of this service is less than the cost of building one parking space. It’s a relatively cheap way to get value.”

Morriss said the function will also enable MIM to provide accurate figures as it applies for future grants. The organization’s current website is several years old and has become obsolete to users accustomed to newer software.

The platform’s unveiling will coincide with the annual Commuter Challenge this spring, which engages 75 local businesses and 1,500 participants. Katherine Auge with Missoula in Motion expects participation in the new platform to follow.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com