Clear the Air Challenge: Making Public Transit a Way of Life

By Elisa Smith

Elisa Smith

Elisa unwinds after a long day by riding the train home.

Each year, the Clear the Air Challenge asks Wasatch Front residents to reduce their vehicle emissions by cutting down on their trips. We spoke with DEQ’s Elisa Smith, a “Top 5” winner of the 2015 winter air quality challenge, to learn how she makes public transit a way of life for herself and her family.

What prompted you to start using public transportation?

My husband and I got rid of our car six years ago. It was hard at first, but we decided it was a good choice for our family and the environment. My kids have never known anything different. My four-year-old even has all the TRAX stops memorized! Their cousins get really excited about “riding the train,’ but for my kids, it’s just the way we get around.

What would you say have been the biggest benefits for your family?

It’s been a great financial decision for us. We don’t have car payments and don’t spend money on gas, repairs, or car insurance. The money we’ve saved has made it possible for my husband to be a stay-at-home dad for our two kids.

We walk a lot more, and that has some real health benefits. We walk to and from the transit stops, to go shopping, and to run errands. We have even figured out how to get a week’s worth of groceries into our backpacks. We don’t even miss the car anymore because we’ve made sure we live in a place near transit where everything else we need is within walking distance.

Of course, we also feel good about helping the environment and doing our part to keep the air cleaner.

Has using transit changed your family’s lifestyle?
Elisa Smith

Elisa catches up on her reading on the train.

We’re more relaxed. When you can’t just jump into the car to go somewhere, you have to decide what’s most important. It helps you prioritize and makes you plan. I’ve gotten pretty good at shopping online for the items we need instead of driving across town for them.

Riding transit to and from work also gives me time to transition between my job and home. I can read a book, listen to music, or just relax. Looking out the train or bus window gives me a different perspective; I notice little things that I would never see if I was driving by in a car.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to make the switch to public transportation?

Make the decision to do it and commit to it. If you take transit occasionally, it’s easy to make excuses to use your car instead. You have to take it seriously and give it a fair chance.

At first, it was hard to adjust to taking public transportation. Once you get into the habit of it though, it becomes second nature. It is wonderful to not fight traffic or search for a parking spot. Once you are comfortable with the system, you can arrive at your destination with less stress.

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

According to our air scientists at DEQ, if all the drivers along the Wasatch Front were to park their cars even one day per week, vehicle emissions would be reduced by 6,500 tons per year. It is pretty amazing to think about what could be accomplished if everyone parked their car even just a few times a week.

Taking public transportation can save you money, reduces stress, improves your health, and it also cleans the air! What are you waiting for?

Take the Challenge today! Check out the Clear the Air Challenge website to sign up. You can register as an individual or team up with friends, family, or co-workers, then use the online TravelWiseTracker to log your progress. Learn more about how you can use active transportation, carpools, public transit, “skip-the-trip,” telework, and trip chaining with the Challenge Toolkit.

Elisa SmithI am the Administrative Secretary for the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation. I have been with the division for 10 years and really enjoy the people I work with. In my personal time, I love spending every moment I can with my husband and boys. We enjoy spending time in nature and going on “adventures.” We try to eat as plant-based and organic as we can to help both the environment and ourselves.