There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sparing the air on the bus

On Sunday, the Sacramento Air Quality Management District was predicting a poisonous day today. The air was going to be so unhealthy that residents were cautioned to leave their cars at home today and take transit. In response, the Yolo County bus companies -- Unitrans, the University of California, Davis, service and Yolo Bus -- offered free rides.

When I traveled to the Bay Area on Sept. 2 I learned that all of the transit services offer either free rides during air quality alerts or what is, in effect, half-price fares by allowing riders to board for free until 1 p.m.

And so it occurred to me that I've never heard any mention of Sacramento Regional Transit's role in helping out on bad air days. I contacted RT's customer service people who answer the mail at and received this response:
RT does not receive additional funding to participate in Spare the Air Day. The other transit services receive funding to offer free service.
Recently I've been complaining about how environmental groups abandoned transit riders when they refused to help stop state cutbacks in transit funding. Obviously, the one local agency that can do something about air pollution is transit, but only if it receives enough support to provide a service that can entice people out of their cars. Environmentalists should be transit riders or at the very least transit supporters.

But now I'm wondering whether RT understands its place in the environmental movement. Does RT only see itself as a mobility service for the poor and disabled?

I was looking forward to grumpily choking while I fumed about RT and its failure to help fight dirty air, but then the air today wasn't as dirty as expected. The Sacramento Air Quality Management District removed its alert. At 1 p.m., the current regional air quality status was healthy everywhere for ozone and, at worse, just "moderate" for particulate matter in a few locations.

So I can breathe easier, but I'm still grumpy. I want to hear that Regional Transit has pursued state and federal air quality dollars to pay for the very real effects that would be brought to the region if people left their cars at home. It's not like we're talking about months of free rides, as this graph of this year's air quality shows.

Sacramento Regional Transit can do more to promote the environmental benefits of its service.

No comments: