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Lost Billions Cited in Push for Staggered Work Hours

Times Urban Affairs Writer

Businesses and commuters have lost a total of $5.8 billion this year because of traffic congestion in Orange and five other Southern California counties, a regional planning agency reported Thursday.

That figure will rise to $55.4 billion a year by the year 2010, according to the study by the Southern California Assn. of Governments. The cost was determined by computing the value of lost working hours, extra gasoline consumption, increased accidents and vehicle maintenance attributable to traffic congestion.

The association is the regional planning agency for 150 cities and Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, Imperial, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. The report on congestion was prepared by the association for its privately sponsored arm, the Regional Institute of Southern California.

Peak Traffic Hours

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Congestion could be reduced significantly, the report said, if employers staggered workers’ hours more.

According to the $40,000 study, paid for with federal grants, nearly two-thirds of all workers in Orange County’s South Coast Metro area leave for home during the 4-6 p.m. peak commute period. The South Coast Metro area, around South Coast Plaza, is bordered by the Costa Mesa Freeway on the east, Harbor Boulevard on the west, Baker Street in Costa Mesa on the south and Warner Avenue in Santa Ana on the north.

The findings of the study have prompted a new traffic-reduction program organized by several regional institute officials, including First Interstate Bank Executive Vice President Pete Hart of Los Angeles and Cordoba Corp. President George L. Pla of Anaheim. The program targets nine major employers in Orange County and 28 in downtown Los Angeles.

The chief executives of those companies will be contacted directly in a bid to persuade them to offer their employees flexible work hours, ride-sharing incentives and greater use of “telecommuting” via computers--or to improve existing programs.

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Two areas--South Coast Metro in Orange County and downtown Los Angeles--will be the initial focus of the project, Hart and Pla said.

“As business people, we must do something about this,” Hart said at a press conference Thursday morning at the Southern California Assn. of Governments’ offices in Los Angeles.

Government has done a “good job” of defining the problem,” Pla added, “but, frankly, the private sector has done very little since the 1984 Olympics.”

Pla said he and other businessmen would use “friendly persuasion” in talks with their counterparts at other firms.

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Irvine Co. Vice President Tom Nielsen, a strong advocate of traffic management, will participate in the talks with chief executives, Pla said.

Hart and Pla said the only leverage they would have in their discussions with top corporate executives is the threat of government regulation if private measures are not taken.

“They will see the costs,” Hart said. “I think we’ll have their attention.”

He said the list of firms was compiled partly on the basis of recommendations from Commuter Computer in Los Angeles and Commuter Network, the Orange County Transit District’s ride-sharing program. Some of the firms, he said, were listed because the board members of the Southern California Assn. of Governments and the regional institute already knew some of the top executives and believed they would be accessible.

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“It’s a pilot program, to last six months to a year,” Hart said. “We can’t address more than a few companies at a time.”

Hart and Pla said they hope to rekindle the spirit of the 1984 Olympics, at which time companies took extraordinary measures to keep employees off the streets during major events.

EMPLOYERS NAMED FOR TRAFFIC ROLE

The Southern California Assn. of Governments will ask these businesses and state institution to start or increase private traffic-reduction efforts.

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Number of Employees Brunswick Corp., Defense Division 188 Bullock’s 600 Emergency Power Engineering Inc. 500 Fairview State Hospital 1,650 Fedco Inc. 632 FileNet Corp. 195 IBM Corp. 100 Los Angeles Times, Orange County Edition 1,100 Metropolitan Circuits Inc. 350


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