20190803_bta_coffee pooling

Phoenix Mitchell, of Worcester, holds a coffee coin Friday next to a new hitching post outside Birchgrove Baking in Montpelier. Mitchell has introduced a new program using the coins as an incentive for carpooling between Montpelier and Worcester.

MONTPELIER — A novel approach to address transportation challenges and combat climate change is gaining momentum in central Vermont.

The Hitching Post program, called “Coffee-Pooling,” began last Saturday with a ride-shares between Birch Grove Baking in Montpelier and the Post Office Café in Worcester.

People anxious to hitch a ride between the two destinations can do so for the $1 price of a wooden “coffee coin” which they present to the driver. The coin can be redeemed at the first two participating locations. Since it launched, the program has gone viral on social media, with residents of other towns in central Vermont asking to participate.

Coffee-Pooling is the brainchild of Worcester resident Adam “Phoenix” Mitchell, who has put a lot of time and thought into the program, with the help of a $500 grant from the Agency of Transportation and a $750 grant from the Montpelier Transportation Infrastructure Committee — both want to support ways to reduce traffic, congestion and the state’s carbon footprint.

Mitchell explained his program in a flyer he produced.

“Coffee-Pooling is community supported transportation,” Mitchell said. “It’s a mash-up of car-pooling, ride-sharing, hitch-hiking and resilient community forming in the context of cafe culture.

“The key is that it utilizes the huge and relatively untapped resource of single-occupied vehicles in Vermont,” he added. “By using this service, participants are having fun, saving money, reducing their carbon footprint, meeting their neighbors and supporting local business.”

Participants simply buy a coffee coin, “raise the flag” on the hitching post at either coffee venue, and wait to be picked by a driver who is reimbursed with the coffee coin.

There is a disclaimer. Both drivers and passengers are urged to exercise discretion when taking or offering a ride and The Hitching Post and coffee venues accept no liability for loss of or damage to property.

Mitchell said the debut of the program was a big success last Saturday.

“We had about 15 people show up at Birch Grove Baking and at least 25 to 30 people show up at the Post Office Café,” Mitchell said. “We met at Birch Grove Baking and had a Coffee-Pooling caravan up to the Post Office Café.

“When we gathered in Worcester, we circled up, answered questions and talked to each other. It was really great to see the support and it’s exciting to see people’s enthusiasm and ready to make this a reality — a real transportation option for people in rural towns that don’t have and won’t have access to a fixed-route bus system. So, this is good,” he added.

Mitchell said he would draft a Google form that would convert into a spreadsheet to gather people’s commuting times and make matches to allow people to carpool together.

“Coffee-Pooling is just one way to get together, but it’s really a symbol to get people to think about how we can have less cars on the road, start riding together and having more fun in the process,” Mitchell said.

Interest in the program has quickly spread, with people in other central Vermont towns hoping to join.

Ginny Sassaman, of Calais, said the idea was being discussed in Maple Corner.

“We’re interested but we’re just in the early stages of exploring it,” Sassaman said. “We were definitely inspired by what we saw over in Worcester. “We’ve been in touch with (Mitchell).”

Sassaman said the Montpelier-Worcester route was easier to accomplish because it followed a straight line between two locations on Route 12.

“For us, it’s a clear route in, but people leaving Montpelier can go through Montpelier in a variety of directions – they might go via College Street or whatever,” she added but said Calais residents continue to explore the prospects to join the program.

Meg Dawkins, of Calais added: “I really believe it can be a viable alternative to the single-occupied vehicle and help build a resilient community in the process. We are drafting a list of objectives to help roll this out and spread The Hitching Post network.”

Strong interest has also come from Jon Copans, the program director of the climate economy models community program at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

“The program I run is really about facilitating community-level conversations around climate, and specifically, what is actionable at the local level – what is in the control of a community,” Copans said. I’m enthusiastic about what Phoenix Mitchell is organizing with The Hitching Post.

“He’s taken a concept that we hear a lot of talk about, which is, driving around in vehicles with a lot of capacity and could we match those extra seats with people looking to get from one point to another — how do we do that matching? He’s taken the initiative to organize this and I see some real potential ... for other communities to do something similar,” he added.

Copans said he is working on inviting various energy groups and committees in central Vermont to attend a meeting — tentatively scheduled for Sept. 18 at a location to be determined — to discuss a region-wide strategy to expand The Hitching Post program.

Mitchell has also launched a GoFundMe site to raise funds to expand The Hitching Post program. Visit www.gofundme.com/the-hitching-post-vermont

For more information about The Hitching Post, visit www.facebook.com/groups/thehitchingpostvt/

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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