Management & Operations

Urban Challenge taps into transit for adventure

Posted on July 1, 2002 by Leslie Davis, managing editor

Attracting non-transit-dependent riders is never an easy task, but the Urban Challenge may help transit agencies attract a whole new segment, including magazine editors. I was not sure what I’d be in store for when my editor volunteered me to take part in the Urban Challenge, a newly created event that combines trivia, technology and public transportation. I was looking forward to getting a better feel for Los Angeles’ sprawling transit system, but definitely wasn’t prepared for the tasks that lay ahead. After completing a 30-question trivia quiz, the 150 participants (broken up into two-person teams) were ranked based on how many answers they got correct. The more correct answers, the earlier you started the race. While I’ll admit I wasn’t in one of the starting groups, by the time my group was called, my teammate and I were prepared to head out and solve the clues for 12 checkpoints. At each of the checkpoints, we needed to ask a stranger to take our picture at the destination for proof that we’d been there. Much of the five hours we roamed the city was spent on the phone trying to get friends to help with the clues, running to catch the next bus and trying to figure out the fastest bus route to get to where we needed. We spent more time walking/limping around the city than anything else until we realized the merits of the bus systems, specifically L.A.’s MetroRapid bus rapid transit system. (The event lends itself to a lot of bus and rail hopping.) Dragging ourselves back to the starting point after hitting such spread out landmarks as Canter’s Deli, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Little Tokyo, we were greeted with some much-welcomed water, and the realization that the winner of the race was done in two hours and 45 minutes. And, while my teammate was ready to go again, I was just looking forward to sitting at my computer and writing about it. Kevin McCarthy, creator of this urban adventure race, began the event last year after designing a similar adventure for his daughter’s birthday party. The first Urban Challenge took place with a practice race in Phoenix in February. The first official race was the Los Angeles challenge and 21 races were held this year, with a final event culminating in Las Vegas in November. All teams finishing in the top 10 of the other races qualify for the Vegas event. When McCarthy created the race, he centered it around using public transportation to get to the various destinations. “Transit brings so much strategy to the race,” he said. “I never conceived doing it without [transit] … it would be just a marathon. It’s an equalizer that gives everyone a shot.” The races involve the more popular lines of transit systems in such major cities as Chicago, Boston, Miami and Philadelphia. McCarthy uses public transit and city maps to design the course, of which no more than seven to 10 miles need to be completed by foot. In fact, many of the race cities were selected based on the quality of their public transportation systems. “I can’t think of a better way to get people to try public transportation than the Urban Challenge,” McCarthy said. “They have to use it.” In its first year, the Urban Challenge did not partner with transit agencies and is still developing a marketing strategy. “In the 2003 season we are anticipating some partnerships,” McCarthy said. “We’re hoping to one day become self-supporting.” To participate in the event, challengers pay an entry fee that ranges from $65 for early registration to $100 on race day. For more information on this event, go to

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