EL MONTE — The Southcoast Air Quality Management District has launched a 4-day work week for its employees in an effort to cut air pollution by reducing the number of cars on the road.
Under the 5-week-old program, known as "4/10," employees work four 10-hour days and take off one weekday, said district spokesman Bill Kelly. On any given day, about 20% of the district's 850 employees do not have to commute to work, he said.
"We estimated that it will reduce 190 tons of pollutants a year from cars driven to and from the district," Kelly said. "That's a 15% reduction."
The 18-month pilot program is part of the district's overall ride-reduction program that includes van and car pools, public transportation subsidies and cash incentives for people who share rides, bicycle or walk to work.
The district, which regulates air-quality standards in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties and the non-desert portion of San Bernardino County, established a 4-day work week to meet vehicle ridership targets that the district set for itself and about 8,500 other employers in Southern California.
Under Regulation 15 adopted by the district last year, employers with more than 100 workers must submit plans designed to increase "average vehicle ridership" to 1.5 riders per car in suburban areas and 1.75 in more congested urban areas, Kelly said.
With 3.5 million commuters in the district's 4-county area jamming the freeways during rush hours, average car ridership is 1.13.
Under district policy, employers can earn credits toward meeting their ridership targets if they provide such programs as ride sharing, bus-fare subsidies and compacted work weeks.
With the 4/10 program, for example, the district earns enough credits to boost its 1.34 average ridership to 1.6 persons per car, said Chris Nelson, transportation management coordinator for the district.
Although that figure exceeds the 1.5 ridership target the district must meet under its own regulation, the district has voluntarily raised its own target to 2.0.
"It's important that the district be a model for other companies and agencies," said Jacqueline Switzer, a district spokeswoman. "We've got to be the ones to lead the way."
About six years ago, the district experimented with a 4-day work week for two departments but discontinued it partly because officials preferred that all departments be on the same schedule.
To log 40 hours in a 4-day week, district employees still start work at 7 or 7:30 a.m. but work 10 instead of eight hours. Employees who take 30-minute rather than 1-hour lunches may leave a half-hour early.
District offices remain open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday.
Employees interviewed say they like the new work schedule.
"I'm more tired than I was on the other schedule, but I love having the day off in the week," said Paula Levy, who works in the district's public advisers office. She has adjusted to the longer hours by spending late afternoon hours working on routine matters that require less concentration.
Bill Wong, a deputy district counsel in the district's legal department, also enjoys having a day off during the week. He went shopping on a recent Thursday and avoided weekend crowds.
"What the district likes is you don't pollute the air as much," said Wong, who drove only 5 miles for his shopping trip instead of driving 50 miles to and from work. Fewer morning commuters also means less ozone pollution, which is created by a chemical reaction that takes place in sunlight, Kelly said.
Engineer Fred Lettice, who worked a 4-day week when the district offered the option to the engineering department six years ago, said he is glad the program is back.
"I enjoy it a great deal," Lettice said. He said his union, the Federation of Public Sector Workers, also supports the 4-day work week.
One recent Monday on his day off, Lettice slept for an extra hour, did some chores and picked his sons up from a day care center.
Lettice said he enjoys the quiet hours at the end of his work day when the district is closed to the public.
"That gives me the last hour of the day to get things cleaned off and get ready for the next day," he said.
A shorter work week, however, has complicated communications within and between departments.
"It's hard to find one day when everybody is available for a meeting," Lettice said.
But employees are finding ways around the problem. For example, staff members in the legal division have selected Wednesday as a core day when everyone has to be at work.
Employees request the day of the week they prefer not to work. Those with seniority and those who share rides, walk or bicycle to work have a better chance of getting their first choice.
Lettice's 5-person car pool had no trouble getting the group's first choice--Mondays--off. But Wong, who joined the legal department just eight months ago and who drives to work alone, had to settle for Thursdays off instead of Fridays.