Agency seeks to spare more air 

In an effort to stretch the dollars set aside for Spare the Air free-ride days this summer, Bay Area air quality experts will consider cutting rides on trains and ferries to half-days.

The proposal comes in response to riders’ and transit agency requests to expand the successful free-ride days, Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokeswoman Karen Schkolnick said. Four full days of free rides would be offered on Bay Area buses and Muni, while four free half-days would be offered on BART, Caltrain and ferries, lasting until 1 p.m., Schkolnick said.

That’s up from the three full days of free public transit rides originally funded in June 2006.

An unexpected infusion of transit funds that came through the state later in the summer added three more free-ride days in July 2006, for a total of six days, officials said. A similar windfall isn’t expected this year, Schkolnick said.

Begun in 2003 with just one bus agency, the Spare the Air free-ride program has expanded to include more than 25 agencies throughout the Bay Area. The program’s goal is to educate people about air pollution and to encourage them to change their behavior, including taking transit, Schkolnick said.

Eliminating the free evening commute on trains and ferries, along with a budget increase for the program to about $7.5 million from about $7 million in 2006, will add a day over that allotted a year ago, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said.

"The [proposed] additional Spare the Air free transit day is being covered largely from savings from not having to reimburse some of the transit agencies for all-day service, particularly BART," Goodwin said.

Going to a four-day schedule would reduce the cost of the free-ride program to about $2 million per day, from about $2.5 million per day, Goodwin said.

"What we saw last year as far as ridership was just completely off the charts, especially for ferries," Goodwin said. Transit ridership levels in the Bay Area rose by approximately 15 percent during the six free-ride days in 2006, adding 1.3 million over baseline levels, according to MTC.

More than 32 tons of emission were eliminated from the air thanks to last year’s program, Goodwin said.

The proposal will be weighed by a subcommittee of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on March 19 and the full board on March 21.

What is Spare the Air?

» A Spare the Air day is called when the forecast is for ozone levels high enough to exceed federal health-based standards.

» In 2006, there were 12 Spare the Air advisories issued.

» The incentive of free rides leads to a 15 percent increase in transit ridership or an additional 1.3 million riders, reducing vehicle emissions by 32.2 tons.

-Source: MTC

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