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Free-Ride Offer Lures Thousands on Spare the Air Days
MTC and the Air District Take Popular Smog-Busting Program to the Next Level, With Free Rides on Two Dozen Transit Systems
“No fare! Thanks for sparing the air.” That’s the upbeat message that greeted transit riders throughout the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area during a three-day smog alert in late June. The free-ride promotion proved to be so successful that MTC and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District acted quickly to extend the program beyond the initial scope and essentially double their offer.
Under the original plan announced this past spring, MTC and the Air District committed to providing free transit rides on the first three Spare the Air non-holiday weekdays during the 2006 summer/fall smog season, setting aside $7.5 million to reimburse the 25 participating transit agencies for lost fares.
At BART stations, signs on fare machines tell riders the good news. (Photo: Noah Berger)
The smog season had barely begun when high temperatures and low winds combined to trigger air-quality alerts and free rides on three back-to-back weekdays — on Thursday, June 22, Friday, June 23, and Monday, June 26.
In a departure from past Spare the Air campaigns, the free-ride offer was good throughout the day and into the evening instead of just during the morning commute. The extended hours proved to be just the ticket; compared to typical weekday patterns, nearly a half million additional travelers flocked to the region’s buses, trains and ferries, bumping up ridership by about 10 percent across the board over the course of the three-day alert.
While the free-ride promotion had the intended effect of significantly boosting ridership during the midday as well as commute hours, certain hot spots nonetheless experienced exceedances of the federal eight-hour standard for ozone (the main ingredient in smog) during the three-day alert.
“Considering the weather, the region did the best it could,” said
MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler. “These ridership gains are still
Buoyed by the enthusiastic ridership showing, and determined to ward
off further air quality violations, MTC and the Air District scrambled
to come up with another $6 million to fund free transit rides on an additional
three Spare the Air days. As it turns out, the two agencies acted just
in time for a second series of air alert days that occurred in July.
Subscribe to “AirAlert” e-mail notices at www.sparetheair.org.
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