If you're sick of shelling out cash at the gas pump, put away your wallet.
The Heartland Commuter Challenge, which encourages people to use alternative transportation, starts Thursday.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Agency and Metro transit are urging Omaha-area employees and students to replace drive-alone car trips with car pools, bus rides, biking and walking.
Challenge organizers said they hope the environmental, health and financial benefits of alternative transportation will motivate people to participate.
“We know that everyone commutes for different reasons,” said challenge manager Courtney Allen. “For some people, it's the huge amount of savings, and other people bike or walk to work to get in their exercise.”
This year, participants can ride the bus for 50 cents, a reduction from $1.25 for a single trip, between Aug. 12 through Aug. 15 to celebrate Ozone Awareness Action Days.
More than 400 people participated in 2012 and took a combined 5,685 trips on city buses or by carpooling. Organizers saw an 8 percent increase in bus ridership during last year's three-week challenge.
This summer, the challenge is a monthlong event and also incorporates biking and walking. Allen said people specifically asked that cyclists be represented.
Those who participate and log their miles online are eligible for prizes, including Visa gift cards, hotel stays and a membership to Film Streams, Omaha's nonprofit movie theater.
The challenge ends Aug. 31. To register for the commuter challenge, visit www.heartland commuterchallenge.com.