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Rise in Smog Spurs Need for Car Pools, Official Says

December 04, 1987|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

San Diego County's locally generated smog, most of which is attributable to automobiles, has become heavy enough that governments should consider requiring local businesses to offer car-pooling incentives to their employees, the county's air pollution control officer said Thursday.

With county auto travel jumping from 35 million miles each day in 1978 to about 48 million in 1986, "there's no doubt we'll have to look at mandating" ride-sharing incentives on the part of county employers, R.J. Sommerville told the California Air Resources Board Thursday.

"We need to address the fundamental issue: too many cars going too many places all day long with not enough people in them," Sommerville said.

Large employers such as San Diego Gas & Electric and UC San Diego have established their own voluntary ride-sharing programs, and the county currently operates a ride-sharing program that works through 600 local employers and the military. But even its director concedes that the government-sponsored effort has failed.

The Commuter Computer program has put just 68,140 people in ride-sharing arrangements since its inception in 1975, program director Manny Demetre said.

Program Hasn't Worked

"To date, the voluntary program hasn't worked. I'm fairly confident that they'll have to go with some form of regulatory program," said Demetre, who blamed the lack of success on the state's failure to provide the funding his program needs.

But even a drastic reduction in automobile traffic will not help the county cope with the major source of smog in San Diego's atmosphere, Sommerville noted. County statistics show that on 65% of the days when smog exceeds federal standards, it has been blown south from the Los Angeles area.

"Transported pollution from the South Coast air basin (Los Angeles) could be characterized as San Diego's major pollution problem, and there's nothing we can do about that," Sommerville said in an interview.

Smog, or ozone, is formed when reactive hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen produced by automobiles and industrial plants react with sunlight. Often trapped by Southern California's topography, smog can irritate lungs and damage tissue where oxygen finds its way into the bloodstream.

Children, the elderly, athletes and people with respiratory ailments are especially sensitive to smog. Others may experience dizziness, coughing, a tightening of the chest, burning eyes, nausea or headaches.

Innovations Missing

Emission controls have produced progress, Sommerville noted, reducing the number of days that ozone levels exceed the federal standard from 90 days in 1978 to 40 days this year. Reactive hydrocarbon emissions have dropped from 305 tons per day in 1978 to 201 tons per day this year.

But transportation innovations designed to cut smog levels are missing their targets by a wide margin, Sommerville said. Ride sharing, mass transit, bicycling and traffic flow measures have produced only 7% of the predicted decrease for reactive hydrocarbons and 9% of the anticipated drop in carbon monoxide.

Sommerville said that cities, the county or even air pollution control officials may have to be responsible for forcing employers, especially large businesses, to encourage their workers to leave their cars at home.

The City of San Marcos has already taken that step. In an effort to cut traffic on city streets and improve air quality, the City Council recently passed an ordinance that penalizes employers who do not offer specified programs that encourage their employees to take alternative forms of transportation. The ordinance also offers financial help to companies who set up the programs.

Depending on their size, San Marcos employers must offer incentives ranging from informational brochures to programs encouraging ride sharing, bus- and car-pooling, and bicycling. The companies could offer preferred parking spaces to people who use car pools or supply vehicles, said Daryl Gentry, project manager for the Peak Hour Traffic Management Program.

The new regulation's target is a 45% reduction of vehicle trips on San Marcos streets.

The City of San Diego also has hired a consultant to study similar transportation management plans.

Mandated ride-sharing programs would draw the opposition of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, said Gary Bonnelli, a spokesman for the chamber. "Anything required, I think the Chamber would be hesitant to support," Bonnelli said. "I think the Chamber could support a voluntary program."

But Ruth Duemler, chairman of the Sierra Club's air quality committee, called Sommerville's comment "a very important suggestion.

"I think it would do a great deal to improve air quality," Duemler said. "They more or less proved that it does work when they had the Olympics in L.A."

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