Friday, June 23, 2006

Spare the air? Or make it worse?

Thursday and Friday were "Spare the air" days in the bay area. The air pollution was bad, and people were 'encouraged' not to drive. To help "spare the air", rides on almost every transit system (minus Vallejo) was free.
Unfortunately, this may have done more to harm the air than spare it.
From the air quality forecasts, the East Bay and Santa Clara valley had critical high pollution. The coastal areas (including San Francisco) were barely outside of 'good' range, while the peninsula and north bay were in moderate range.
San Francisco has the most trips that would be easily accessible by transit. The peninsula also has a large number of jobs that are somewhat transit accessible (many with a 'shuttle bus').
Cars produce most of their pollution in the first few minutes after starting up. There are also evaporative emissions produced for the first few hours after being parked, which are especially problematic for ozone. So, if people stayed home and didn't drive at all, this would have helped greatly.
However, many of the Bay Area transit systems offer free parking. BART has vast parking lots, primarily in the easy bay valleys. The parking is free at nearly all East Bay stations. VTA also has a large amount of free parking - primarily in the southern Santa Clara valley. Caltrain also has free parking at the stations in far southern Santa Clara county. These areas with free parking neatly coincide with the areas that have the highest pollution alerts.
And the destinations for most of these riders? San Francisco would be the primary destination for most BART riders. SFO or Oakland may also appear. For VTA, downtown San Jose, or the peninsula, while for Caltrain, primarily San Francisco. If these people were switching from driving to park and ride + transit, they successfully reduced pollution in the best areas while adding it to the worst. And this assumes that people were planning on driving any way. Were many of these people merely using free transit as a means to joy ride? If they were doing this, while at the same time driving to the station, they added additional pollution that wouldn't have occurred otherwise.
If they were serious about pollution, why not close down gasoline sales during the hot time of day? Or close down freeways? Or prevent use of gas powered lawn equipment?