Today is the 9th “Spare the Air Day” in the Bay Area. The Air Quality Management District declares this status when they predict that air pollutants will exceed Federal standards unless we take action — such as reducing driving. The predictions apparently are based on the likelihood of high temperatures and stagnant air.
The six Spare the Air Days this year triggered free public transit rides. Ridership of BART and other systems was reported up by tens of thousands of riders each free day. But, the money to subsidize public transportation has run out, and people are on their own in their transit decisions today.
The KGO radio news is reporting on the Spare the Air Day and the lack of free public transportation in a tone which implies that without bribery the public is sure to ignore the designation. (The reporters’ assumption is kinda annoying.)
If the free rides significantly improves air quality, adding more pubic transportation subsidies would be an effective health action. Unfortunately, I can find no facts on the effectiveness of the free rides on the Spare the Air Days. The news focuses on the increase in public transportation ridership, but did anyone analyze whether that helped the air quality? It seems reasonable that more public transportation commuters could be a good marker for better air quality. But, how about a look at the actual air quality compared with a similar day in the past when public transportation was not free.
The Spare the Air site shows that even with the free rides the area has exceeded air quality standards 10 times this year.
So, what did the free rides do?
You missed the report during one of the previous “Spare the Air” days. The ferry from Oakland was so full of non-commuter people just taking a free ride on the ferry that many regular ferry commuters were forced to wait until the next boat.
I personally don’t think that free rides are the right solution. Maybe reduced-fare rides would be good, but I think that a lot of people who wouldn’t normally use the transit system (and have no interest in ever using the transit system) say “oh, it’s free, I’ll do it”, which defeats the purpose.