You may not have noticed, but Thursday’s great California Pool Party Day was declared a rousing success as some commuters car-pooled, van-pooled, rode a bus or otherwise pooled their efforts to get to work and back.
Many of Orange County’s largest private companies and leading public transit officials proclaimed that the Pool Party--their much ballyhooed public relations effort to coax commuters out of their own cars and into someone else’s--had struck a significant blow for ride-sharing.
However, the cold facts are that street and freeway congestion was about the same as any other Thursday in Orange County, according to the California Highway Patrol and local police.
Moreover, the county’s only car-pool traffic lane--located on the Costa Mesa Freeway--showed virtually no change compared to prior months, according to Caltrans, the state highway department.
And bus ridership, even on Orange County’s busiest lines, increased only slightly.
Not even all the supporters of Pool Party Day managed to find someone to share a ride.
“As a matter of fact, I (came) to work so early that nobody else was up,” said county Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, who also is chairman of the Orange County Transportation Commission.
Although Riley drove to work alone Thursday, he promised that tonight he and his wife would double date when they go out for dinner.
“We’re going someplace with some friends, and we’re going to go by and pick them up,” he said. “It reduces the (number of) cars.”
Transit authorities hastened to point out that the main objective of Thursday’s high-profile campaign was to increase public awareness of ride-sharing alternatives. There was about $200,000 spent statewide by public agencies, including OCTD, to promote the Pool Party, most of it to purchase radio spots, according to Gary W. Edson, who manages the Orange County Transit District’s Commuter Network program, which matches up people interested in ride-sharing.
“The objective of the thing wasn’t to lower the congestion today,” he said. “We did meet our objective.”
“By trying it (ride-sharing) out, they now know who they can car-pool with and . . . what bus they can take to work. They may not use it tomorrow, but they may use it over the year. Many of them, I’m sure, are getting into the (ride-share) pool permanently.”
CHP spokesman Mike Lundquist said there were “fewer accidents and fewer disabled” automobiles on Orange County freeways during the morning rush hour, “but no appreciable difference in traffic.”
Public Education Needed
“And there didn’t seem to be any more car-poolers,” Lundquist said, after surveying patrol officers. “I think it (ride-sharing) is something that’s going to take a long time and a lot of education of the public to get them in the mood.”
Private and public agencies with 100 or more employees are under a mandate from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to adopt programs to increase ride-sharing as a means of reducing smog.
If the average number of persons per car could be increased from the current 1.2 to a mere 1.5, Orange County transit officials say there would be no freeway congestion, except when there are accidents. Authorities estimate that car-poolers amount to only about 12% to 14% of the county’s motorists, down from about 16% in the 1980 Census.
“In the 1980-period we had just gone through an era of oil embargo and the cost of gas skyrocketing,” Edson said. “But now the cost of gas is getting lower. We’re fighting against a lot of economic trends.”
Some Orange County private firms took the battle to their employees, providing one-time incentives to share rides on Thursday. Allergan Pharmaceuticals Inc., a manufacturer of eye and skin care products in Irvine, offered a choice of goodies such as tote bags, T-shirts or commuter coffee mugs to pooling commuters.
Nearly 400 of the company’s 1,400 employees at Allergan’s Irvine facility shared rides to work Thursday, compared to about 200 on a typical day, according to company spokeswoman Jamie Trevor.
Allergan’s Chief Executive Officer Gavin Herbert, who normally drives himself to work, “car-pooled with the head of his security” on Thursday, said Irma Acuna, who manages the firm’s van-pool program.
“He wanted to receive a tote bag,” Acuna said. Herbert got one, just as did other participants who wanted one.
At State Farm Insurance Co.'s regional office in Costa Mesa, normally, about 155 employees car-pool to work. On Thursday, about 90% of the firm’s 1,000 workers joined in, finding alternate modes of transportation--if only for the day, said Jay Guertin, chairman of the company’s California Pool Party Day festivities.
Car-pooling employees were treated Thursday to preferred parking, free morning coffee and doughnuts, sun screens for their autos and a raffle for prizes ranging from South Coast Plaza gift certificates ($25) to a videocassette recorder.
In addition, solo drivers were “politely” penalized, Guertin said. They were sent to park in the farthest reaches of the lot and got no raffle tickets.
At the Irvine Co.'s headquarters in Newport Beach, car-poolers were treated to a luncheon of Chinese chicken salad and green-tea ice cream at the Newport Marriott Hotel. The 50 takers, of course, were shuttled from the office to the fete. After all, many of them didn’t have a car.
The company, which has 250 workers at its headquarters office, offers preferred parking for its regular car-poolers. So far, there have been no shortages of reserved spots, said Peggy Moody, who organized the Thursday activities. To date, only two people car-pool to work, she said.
Executive Didn’t Car-Pool
Still, company Vice Chairman Thomas H. Nielsen said he was pleased with his workers’ participation Thursday. He told them at the luncheon that it is innovation and dedication such as theirs that will eventually solve the area’s traffic troubles.
Nielsen, however, drove to work Thursday as usual--alone in his Jaguar.
“I arrived back from Europe last night,” he said. “I live within one mile of the office. I guess I could have walked to work if I had known. . . . But I think this is primarily for people of longer commuting distance.”
Nielsen was alone in his car but not in his commuting circumstances. Although few high-level executives could be reached for comment on their driving habits, their secretaries and spokeswomen said Thursday that these executives rode solo.
Thomas Hammond of Hammond Co. piloted his Mercedes-Benz to the office Thursday. Don Karcher of Carl Karcher Enterprises drove in his Lincoln Continental. And David Tappan, chairman of Fluor Corp., came in his Cadillac.
There were others who apparently got the word a little late. Sue Henger, a museum editor from Laguna Beach, said she heard about the car-pool day too late to make plans.
But, she added, “You’ve raised my consciousness. . . . I believe in cutting down on cars out there and the wear and tear on my own car.”
Orange County Transit District General Manager James Reichert, whose agency was the primary local public sponsor of the Pool Party, was expected to car-pool home Thursday, once he returned by airplane from a transit convention in Montreal, Canada.
Does Reichert usually car-pool? “Of course not,” his secretary said. “He can’t.”
Stan Oftelie, Orange County Transportation Commission executive director, admitted that he finds “the availability of a car is seductive, and I need to have one nearby.”
But Oftelie said he qualified as a car-pooler Thursday because he drove his twin sons to school in the morning. “So I pooled that far,” Oftelie said.
OCTD spokeswoman Joanne Curran said spot checks of the transit district’s busier bus lines showed an average increase of one or two riders per hour on routes that normally carry 35 passengers per hour. “That may not seem like a lot, but it really is,” Curran said. “People in the industry rejoice with that.”
At The Times’ request, Caltrans conducted a special count of traffic between the peak hour beginning at 6:45 a.m. on the southbound Costa Mesa Freeway on Thursday morning, showing 1,580 car-pools or 27% of vehicles on the route.
That amounted to an increase of only 80 vehicles over a similar survey one year earlier, said Caltrans car-pool expert Ron Klusza.
“An 80-car increase is not enough to hang your hat on” in terms of drawing conclusions, Klusza said.
Times staff writers Maria L. La Ganga, Bob Schwartz, Marcida Dodson, David Reyes, Jeffrey Perlman, Mariann Hansen, Chris Dufresne, Robyn Norwood and Cathy Curtis contributed to this story.