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Air Quality Rule to Change Driving Habits

July 24, 1988

Until Thursday, Southern California concentrated on technology in its effort to reduce the air pollution caused by autos. In the beginning, some motorists didn't like the smog systems required on their cars and balked at smog tests required every other year at license renewal time.

Those changes are now accepted as routine. And while they help reduce air pollution, they are still not enough. Air quality must be improved even more, and heavy auto traffic, a major cause of pollution and congestion, reduced further. Both can be accomplished in the new approach adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District requiring all employers with 100 or more workers to develop a plan to help reduce peak-hour traffic or face stiff fines of up to $25,000 a day.

The approach, officially known as Regulation 15, is aimed at modifying motorists' driving habits rather than modifying machinery. It could affect about 600,000 commuters in Orange County, and millions of others in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where the rule is also in force.

Employers have options. They can promote ride-sharing, staggered work hours and bus ridership, or combinations of all three. Those approaches aren't new. Nor are they impossible to implement. Some companies have been using them voluntarily for years, to good advantage for the employee, the company and the community.

Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, for example, has had a ride-sharing program for the last 10 years and is used by about 20% of its 12,000 employees. Orange County is a leader in staggering work hours to keep employees out of peak-hour traffic tie-ups. Southern California Edison Co. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. are other companies in Orange County that did not wait for a law to require them to do the sensible thing--organize programs to increase car- and van-pooling among their employees.

Other businesses in the county recognized in the past for organizing company ride-sharing programs are the Fluor Corp., ITT-Cannon, Rockwell International and Cal State Fullerton.

Some commuter programs subsidize bus fares for employees. Incentives offered for car-poolers include special parking places, monthly prizes and additional time off.

Companies also benefit because of reductions in employee absenteeism, lateness, stress and turnover--and improved efficiency and morale. That's why the business community should look on the new air quality regulations as an opportunity that can benefit everyone involved.

The air quality district staff and the Orange County Transit District's Commuter Network are available to companies, at no cost, to help set up traffic reduction programs.

The air quality district estimates that ride-sharing can reduce traffic congestion as much as 25%. Noticeable improvements can be achieved if employees would only car-pool or ride the bus a few days each week.

The new regulation does call for some changes in the way we live and commute. But they are not major changes, and certainly not unreasonable, considering how important it is to reduce traffic congestion and make life healthier in the smoggiest area of the nation.

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