MONTPELIER -- Vermonters spend on average more than 20 minutes commuting to work each way, according to the U.S. Census, and about three-quarters of these daily commuters drive alone.

With 94 percent of the state's vehicle fleet powered by gasoline, a carbon emitting fossil fuel, the state will need to focus on the transportation sector in its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a recent University of Vermont study states.

That's why organizations in Vermont are asking their employees to drive less and walk, bike and carpool to work more often through individual incentives.

"We have got to find a better way to go," said Lori Fisher, the master of ceremonies for the Way to Go! Commuter Challenge, a program that awards participating businesses for launching efforts to reduce solo commuting.

Church Street, Burlington. (File Photo by Greg Guma.)
Church Street, Burlington. (File Photo by Greg Guma.)

At a ceremony held in the Statehouse on Thursday, Fisher gave several businesses and organizations the so-called Carbon Cup award for encouraging alternative commuting. The program estimates about 5,000 people participated in its week-long challenge that saved 211,103 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Fisher presented this year's winners with the awards and highlighted their individual programs.

Fletcher Allen Healthcare, of Burlington, rewards their employees for walking and biking to work.

Seventh Generation, of Burlington, reimburses their employees for using public transportation and provides $800 per year for wellness purchases, such as a bike.

AllEarth Renewables, of Williston, provides each employee with a $6,000 carbon stipend that they can cash in for the amount of electric, heat, and gasoline they do not use.

Other winners include the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a Montpelier environmental advocacy group that lobbies for land use policies that make driving less necessary, the City of Montpelier and Waitsfield Elementary School.

Nearly 50 percent of the state's total greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, according to state officials. Cutting emissions from this sector is necessary if the state wants to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals, said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deborah Markowitz.

"We are going to have to figure out different ways to get around," she said. "Way to Go! is one way to get people to think about their choices."

Markowitz, who chairs Gov. Peter Shumlin's Climate Cabinet, has made it a priority to electrify the region's transportation sector.

She supports building a so-called "Green Highway" between Montréal and Washington, D.C. that has adequate charging stations for electric vehicle travelers. Markowitz is also working on a seven-state initiative to put 3.3 million battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles on the road by 2025.

The state is receiving written comments on the Draft Vermont ZEV Action Plan on or before July 11 to Deirdre Ritzer at [email protected]

David Blittersdorf, president and CEO of AllEarth Renewables, said despite the state's efforts to put cleaner running cars on the road, he said the "car has to be killed."

He said there are not enough finite resources to build out the electrical and transportation infrastructures necessary to continue relying on the automobile - either powered by fossil fuels or electricity.

"It's a dead end road," Blittersdorf said. "We have to go to rail."

Passenger rail ridership has been increasing since the early 2000s. In 2012, about 45,000 boarding occurred in the state, a 40 percent increase since 2003, according to the Agency of Transportation.

There was a dip in ridership following the disruption in service after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The state and federal governments have invested tens of millions of dollars in building out the western corridor rail between St. Albans and Rutland to achieve faster travels and heavier freight loads.