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Riders Get Bonuses : Smog Battlers Set Pace by Forming Van Pools

August 04, 1988|MICHAEL MILSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

Bob Bean earns an extra $30 each month for driving 75 miles to and from work each day.

Bean makes the trip with 14 other employees to the South Coast Air Quality Management District offices in El Monte, riding in one of the agency's two van pools, both filled to capacity. Van riders get a $30 bonus every month for eliminating their share of the same smog they measure, examine and try to control each day at work.

"Really, the major theme is that you want to set an example," said Bean, a district investigator who prepares legal documents to prosecute pollution offenders. He has ridden the van pool from his home in Fontana for two years. "We have great discussions, we don't have to deal with the traffic, I hardly have to use my own car at all now. And we get paid for it."

The money for the bonuses comes from a $100,000 fund set up by AQMD board members last year to lure employees into sharing rides to work. So far, AQMD officials say, the program is working: Roughly 160 of AQMD's some 600 employees use car pools, buses, bicycles or walk to work, and that number is rising steadily. They are eligible for the bonuses if they ride-share at least 75% of the time.

Teaming up pays off. Each person in a 4-member car pool become $24 richer each month. Those in a 3-person car pool or who ride a bus to work make $22. And employees who walk, ride bikes or join a 2-person car pool earn $16.

Those who use the vans must each pay $65 a month to cover leasing, insurance and vehicle maintenance, Dunlap said. But riders point out that the monthly $30 bonus cuts the usage fee to $35, which is far less than what it would cost them to drive to work in terms of gasoline, wear and tear on their cars and aggravation.

Business manager Sam McNeill estimates that he saves about $170 a month by car-pooling with another person from his home in Signal Hill, a 30-mile drive each way.

"In our work, we're trying to convince other people to do this, so we ought to be doing it too," McNeill said. "Plus," he smiled, "we like the $16 a month."

Almost one of every four AQMD employees participates in the ride-sharing program. The agency has an average vehicle ridership (AVR) of about 1.4, meaning that, on average, 1.4 people ride each vehicle to work.

A ridership directive--Regulation 15--instituted by the AQMD late last year, ordered all employers in the 4-county district with more than 100 people at an individual site to design plans to increase their AVR to 1.3, 1.5 or 1.75, depending on their location.

That mandate will affect about 8,500 companies and organizations. Companies have a year to comply with the mandate after receiving individual notices from AQMD. The agency began mailing the notices in July.

By its own regulations, AQMD must reach an average of 1.5 riders per vehicle within the next year, but hopes to attain a 2.0 average. The district hopes to offer its plan as a model program.

The AQMD ride-sharing program got its start four years ago, before most other companies and public agencies, when officials decided that the agency should be setting the example it wanted other companies to follow.

In April, 1984, John D. Dunlap, a community relations officer who also serves as the agency's transportation coordinator, leased a van and set up preferred parking spaces for those using car pools. Dunlap drives one of the agency's two vans.

Then last year, board members agreed to expand the program, and begin offering financial incentives to employees who used an alternative to solo driving for at least 70% of their daily commute. The agency continues to offer the broadest range of employee ride-sharing incentives in Southern California.

Newly hired employees are deluged with information encouraging them to join the program. Ride-sharing posters and signs decorate AQMD offices, proclaiming that "Car Poolers Get Bigger Paycheck$$$$$."

Besides the monthly payoffs, ride-sharing workers are invited to quarterly get-togethers during workdays. Free food is served and drawings are held to award prizes ranging from all-expense-paid rafting trips in Northern California to free automobile tuneups.

About half of the prizes are donated by local merchants, Dunlap said, while the rest are paid for out of AQMD's ride-sharing fund.

And once a week, car-poolers are permitted to buy lead-free gasoline at wholesale cost, 83 cents per gallon, at the AQMD's gas pump. Another program allows employees to car-pool in agency fleet cars that are powered by more fuel-efficient methanol.

"It reduces wear and tear on your own vehicle and really minimizes the stress and strain of driving on the freeway," said Oscar Butler, a senior personnel analyst who, with five others, drives from Ontario in a fleet car each day.

This fall, Dunlap said, the agency plans to propose doubling the monthly ride-sharing bonuses. Such a plan would have to be sanctioned by AQMD's board of directors.

Other Benefits

There are other, less visible benefits of car-pooling, participants say. Those who ride the vans discuss and argue over volatile topics such as politics and religion, and review current movies. Often such talks break down the barriers between people who work in different aspects of the organization.

Jacqueline Switzer, a spokeswoman in AQMD's media office, car-pools with two engineers who work in the agency's laboratory. They are all more familiar with each other's work now, she said, and she is more comfortable calling them during the day to ask questions.

Dunlap's van pool includes an AQMD vice president as well as several secretaries. "To get some of the high mucky-mucks in the agency riding with some of the clerks, and exchanging notes with them, it's a real equalizer," Dunlap said.

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