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UCLA Offers Ride-Sharing to Workers in Westwood

Times Staff Writer

Encouraged by the growth of their ride-sharing service from a handful of employees in 1984 to nearly 1,500 students, professors and staff members today, UCLA officials said Thursday that the program will be expanded to workers in nearby Westwood Village.

“This is the future,” said Mark Stocki, manager of business and transportation services for the university.

While many Southern Californians cling to the freedom of driving alone, the frustrations of the daily commute are pushing others to look for other ways to get to work, he said.

“In many ways, it’s a little like the anti-smoking campaign,” he said. “The message has been going out for a long time, and people are smoking less. The same message is beginning to creep out with ride-sharing.”

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UCLA’s ride-sharing program was founded in an effort to cut traffic during the 1984 Olympic Games. It now offers subsidized commuting on 52 blue-and-gold vans from the campus to communities as distant as Mission Viejo, Palmdale and Riverside.

Volunteer Drivers

The 15-seat vans are driven by volunteers who travel free and are allowed to use the university-owned vehicles on weekends. Regular passengers pay up to $120 a month, depending on how far they live from campus.

“The savings in insurance and gas costs alone would be worth more than the fare,” said Penny Menton, manager of the university’s Commuter Assistance Ride-Sharing office, known by its initials as CARS.

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While van-pooling is the cheapest and most convenient form of travel for commuters who live 20 miles or more from the campus, the university’s ride-sharing office also arranges an additional 760 car pools for those who live closer. Drivers are guaranteed a discount-priced parking spot near their work station.

Stocki and Menton said they did not know how many additional riders they would gain by opening the university service to workers in the nearby business district.

City Will Help

But City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who vowed Thursday that the city would help underwrite the expansion with funds from the Prop. A transportation sales tax, said the UCLA program should be emulated countywide.

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“More than 1,000 people riding on vans means close to 1,000 cars that are not on the streets and the freeways during the a.m. and p.m. peak hours,” he said. “If we could expand this . . . what a difference we could make for traffic congestion and, more important, for air quality. Because it’s air quality that suffers when we’re caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic, not just our nerves.”

Stocki said he expects that large firms in the Westwood area will promote the program in order to meet their obligations under a recent ruling by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The AQMD regulation says that as of Jan. 1, 1990, employers of 100 or more people must implement a plan that encourages employees to reduce their driving.

The regulation, which already applies to employers of 500 or more, is intended to reduce the carbon monoxide and ozone emissions that make up much of the smog in the Los Angeles area.

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The UCLA program is affiliated with Commuter Computer, a nonprofit firm sponsored by Caltrans, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, and the Federal Highway Administration. Commuter Computer arranges ride-sharing for more than 115,000 people.

Significant Impact

Steve Lantz, an official of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, said ride-sharing has a significant impact on rush-hour traffic even if most of the riders do not take the vans and car pools every day.

Under the UCLA program, riders may guarantee their seats by making a monthly payment or take their chances and pay by the day. Most do not take the vans or car pools five times a week.

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“Even if each person ride-shares once every two weeks, that reduces the demand on the freeways by 10%, and that’s enough today to make a difference,” Lantz said.

Ride-share commuters said they see their daily commute as a chance to relax and chat with friends instead of stewing in freeway traffic.

“I see myself as part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem,” said Mark Turner, a Van Nuys-UCLA commuter for a year and a half.

Turner, who works in materials management at the university’s medical center, said his van has become “almost like a social club,” with riders and their spouses attending monthly dinners.

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“When I used to drive to Redondo Beach, it took more than an hour, and I needed another 30 minutes to unwind,” said Betsy Arenstein, manager of the university speakers’ bureau. “For your own mental health, it’s very important.”


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