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Everyone Into the Pool : AQMD Requires Southland Businesses to Draw Up Ride-Sharing Plans to Cut Traffic and Air Pollution

W hen the South Coast Air Quality Management District unveiled Regulation 15, it was considered the most aggressive effort ever undertaken to make Southland businesses reduce air pollution by cutting traffic congestion.

To implement the regulation, the AQMD notified 200 of Southern California’s largest firms that they had until the beginning of November to create plans for getting workers out of their cars and into car pools and buses.

To date, however, more than half of the companies required by law to file transportation management plans have failed to do so.

And perhaps more important, AQMD officials acknowledge that the program lacks the enforcement power that ultimately may be needed to achieve its ambitious goals.

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The plans are required to outline company programs to increase average employee ridership to 1.5 passengers per vehicle during the critical commute time of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. The agency contends that the average vehicle ridership within its boundaries is only 1.13.

Court Action as Possibility

“Ultimately we have the possibility of seeking court action for not handing in a plan,” said Jacqueline Switzer, an AQMD spokeswoman. “But the AVR (average vehicle ridership) target does not require that it be met. There is no penalty for simply not meeting the AVR. That is why it is called a target.”

If a company does not hand in the plan, it can be fined up to $25,000 per day. But the toughness ends there. For the agency is taking pains to avoid antagonizing employers at this early stage in the program, stressing compliance and cooperation over enforcement in an effort to bring dissident companies into the clean-air fold.

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“We have focused our efforts on working with the companies,” said John Dunlap, an AQMD spokesman and the manager of the group implementing the rule. “We have not said that enforcement will play a tremendous role in this program.”

On July 25, the agency mailed out 200 letters notifying companies with 500 or more employees of the November deadline. The firms are located within Los Angeles and Orange counties and parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

By Friday, only 75 plans had been delivered. The agency rescheduled the deadlines for 28 companies, because the firms actually had fewer than the requisite 500 workers. In addition, 16 extensions were granted. That leaves 81 firms that have yet to file a plan.

Although agency officials concede that response has been sluggish, they view the low turnout with calm.

“This is the first group that we’ve notified, and they’re many of the largest firms,” Dunlap said. “The first batch is a little slower than some of the others we’ll get. But the program is new, and we need to develop a rapport with them.”

Many of the companies notified in July are grumbling about the plan, what it will do and how it is being administered. In several cases, the AQMD notified the wrong person in their organizations, and the companies ended up with even less time to write a plan than the 90 days mandated by the agency.

But Harold Katz, a Los Angeles traffic management consultant, contends that the firms themselves are partly to blame for the slow response, that “many of the companies just haven’t moved on it yet.”

“I think there’s a sort of a belief that it is really not for real,” said Katz, who is writing ride-sharing plans for firms in the Los Angeles Basin. “I’ve asked some, ‘Why have you waited so long?’ They said, ‘I’m busy.’ ”

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The July 25 letter was only the first wave of company notification. Each month, the agency will mail out 200 more letters, until it notifies all 1,200 companies with more than 500 workers of the requirement.

Notification of Smaller Companies

Then it will start notifying companies with fewer workers until all 8,000 targeted companies with 100 or more employees at a single site file a transportation plan showing how ridership can be increased to an average of 1.5 passengers per car.

According to the AQMD, the magic ridership number 1.5 will reduce commuter traffic 14.8-million vehicle miles per day. That, in turn, would result in a 25% reduction in rush-hour traffic, and roughly 740,000 fewer daily vehicle trips would be made between homes and work sites.

While companies could be fined up to $25,000 per day for not filing a plan, the program contains no employee sanctions, nothing to make workers get out of their personal cars and into a van pool or a bus. Instead of sanctions, it mandates employee incentives.

And employers contend that their employees are not thrilled with the regulations, the incentives, or the thought of changing their commuting habits.

“We put employee focus groups together some months ago and let people know what was coming,” said Armand Villagomez, corporate manager for employee relations at Beckman Instruments in Fullerton. “We found (car pools) really are a concern on peoples’ minds.”

Beckman tried to institute a car-pool program in the early 1980s, Villagomez said, but the program failed. “We could have done a better job of organizing it,” he said. “But somebody made a comment then that everyone out West wants to ride their own horse.”

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One way companies are buying time to create their plans and reprogram their employees is by filing for an extension. According to Switzer, the AQMD has received 50 extension requests so far. “We’ve denied most of them,” she said.

AST Research Inc., an Irvine computer-maker, is one company that has filed for an extension. The company’s plan is due this week, and it has hired Harold Katz & Associates to formulate a plan. But the plan is nowhere near completion, and the company does not know if its extension has been granted.

And while the stated goal of the program is to increase ridership to 1.5 passengers per vehicle, AST does not believe that it will be subject to penalties if the plan it devises falls short of the mark? The company is right.

“It is my understanding that companies are expected to be thinking about ride-sharing and (expected to) put a plan into place but will not be fined for not meeting the 1.5-passenger goal,” said Minette Carden, AST’s employee relations supervisor. “We don’t expect to go from whatever we have now to 1.5. We will try some things, see if they work and readjust our program.”

AST’s attitude should come as no surprise. Like the rest of the agency’s regulations, Regulation 15 has no firm enforcement schedule, no solid plan of punishment for the variety of infractions that could arise.

The only penalties that exist so far are for not submitting a plan. If a plan that is submitted and approved by the AQMD does not reach the 1.5-passenger goal by the end of a year, the plan must be revised.

sh No Institutionalized Efforts

The AQMD refused to divulge the contents of plans received to date because it will not start reviewing them until this week. But officials at Anaheim Memorial Hospital and Northrop Corp.'s Anaheim-based Electro Mechanical Division were willing to discuss the details of their plans.

Until it began work on the AQMD plan, Anaheim Memorial had had no institutionalized ride-sharing efforts, said Karen Stueve, the hospital’s benefits coordinator. Employee response to the plan so far might explain why.

Of the hospital’s 944 employees, only 511 work the day shift affected by the AQMD plan. Of those 511, 199 refused even to fill out the commuter survey on which the whole ride-sharing plan is based.

“So far the response has not been positive,” Stueve said. “People did not want to give phone numbers and addresses and work hours (required by the survey). One comment was that someone could break into your house when you were away at work. Once one person said it, it spread.”

The hospital’s plan, as yet unreviewed, includes a compressed week in which 88 nurses currently work three 12-hour days. The hospital plans to increase the number of participants. It also has prepared ride-sharing match lists, is setting aside 20 preferred parking spaces for car pools and is plotting personalized bus routes for employees who live close enough to the hospital to use public transportation.

To date, the hospital’s average vehicle ridership is about 1.13 passengers, Stueve said; it will take until at least 1991 to achieve the mandated 1.5 passengers, in part because of employee reluctance.

“Our employees feel it’s another thing we’re forcing them into doing that they don’t want to do,” Stueve said.

At Northrop, which has had some sort of institutionalized ride-sharing program for about 30 years, there is greater optimism.

“We have been encouraging car-pooling right along,” said Elmer Noonan, vice president for human resources and administration at Northrop. “In our survey results, our average ridership came in at 1.6. . . . The target is 1.5.”

Right now, 50 of the company’s 2,000 employees travel to work by van pool, Noonan said. As part of its AQMD plan, Northrop will encourage car pools and block off 50 preferred parking spots for car-poolers.

“We already have people using public transportation, bicycles, walking to work, van pools and car pools,” Noonan said. “We’re fortunate.”

‘No Control Over Employees’

Some less fortunate companies have voiced concern that they can only dangle carrots in front of their employees to persuade them to try alternative ways to ride to work; there is no corresponding stick to make sure that they actually take the bus or the van pool or the bicycle.

“Companies are being compelled to make ride-sharing more attractive, but we have no control over the employees,” said Scott Rayburn, a spokesman for Hughes Aircraft Ground Systems Group in Fullerton. “It’s evident by the way things are that Draconian measures may be necessary.”

Hughes has had institutionalized ride-sharing programs since the late 1970s, an era of gas shortages and high fuel prices. The company currently runs 38 van pools and has 50 registered car pools of three riders or more. In addition, there are about 750 car pools of two riders, Rayburn said.

But the employee incentives offered by the company are limited. Car pools and van pools get preferred parking. The company also provides bicycle racks and showers for employees who cycle to the job. Although Hughes is working on its Regulation 15 plan, it has yet to submit one, Rayburn said.

In urban areas, where workers pay hundreds of dollars per year to park their cars, parking subsidies may be a big enough carrot to entice workers to participate in car pools.

But in suburban areas such as Orange County, preferred parking spots and other minor perks often are simply not enough to make employees jump into a van pool, said Katz, the transportation management consultant.

So what will work? Money.

“Dollar incentives are the first type of incentive,” Katz said. “But there are two problems. They add additional costs to the operations of the company. And the incentive is taxable income to the employee.”

Despite those obstacles, some companies are willing to offer financial incentives. Commuter Transportation Services of Los Angeles--also know as the nonprofit Commuter Computer--has instituted what the company calls “a travel allowance.” And it’s working, said Bill McCaughey, director of marketing for the firm.

Formerly, the company paid for all employee parking. Today, all employees are given $50 per month to do with as they will, McCaughey said.

“We now say, ‘Here’s $50. If you want to spend it on parking, fine. If you want to pocket it and take a car pool, that’s better,’ ” he said.

In addition, he said, the company has a variety of flexitime plans and allows some employees to work from their homes.

“I work at home myself once every two to three weeks,” McCaughey said. “It’s absolutely wonderful. All of this has kept me at this employer longer. It affects my productivity, my tenure at this company. I feel a great sense of freedom and control over my life.”

A BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGING THE WAY WE COMMUTE

The South Coast Air Quality Management District says the following options can be combined to form a workable plan to increase vehicle ridership during the peak morning commute hours of 6 to 10. The current average is 1.13 passengers per car, and the agency’s goal is 1.5 passengers.

RIDE SHARING:

Car pools: Shared rides in private automobiles to and from work by two or more employees. Effective for two to five riders and a commute of more than 10 miles round trip. Companies can use computerized matching services, such as the Commuter Network, to set up car pools for their employees.

Van pools: Large, well-organized car pools with eight to 15 riders that take several cars off the road. Effective for commutes of more than 40 miles round trip. Companies can own or lease vans and administer programs themselves, or hire a firm for that purpose. Many companies share the cost of the program with the riders.

ALTERNATIVE MODES OF TRANSPORTATION

Walking: A good commuting alternative for employees who live within a mile or two of the work site. Companies promoting such a program should explore the immediate area to assist walkers in plotting routes, ones with properly lighted sidewalks and special paths. Employees should be advised to check air quality forecasts and to find another way to work during smog alerts.

Bicycling: An attractive alternative for employees who live within 5 to 10 miles of work. Companies should supply bicycle storage facilities and showers and check possible routes to work. Employees should be advised to check air quality forecasts and to find another way to work during smog alerts.

Local public transit: Works best in heavily traveled transportation corridors serving high-density areas. Companies should provide transit information and can create incentives, such as subsidized bus passes and company shuttles between the work site and mass-transit stops.

FLEXIBLE WORK SCHEDULES

Employers can influence when their employees come to work as well as how they commute. Alone, a flexible work schedule does not guarantee an increase in average vehicle ridership. Flextime can extend the company workday and allow employees to arrive at work on a staggered work schedule. Or it can offer compressed workweeks, with, for example, four 10-hour days. Or employees can telecommute from their homes via personal computer.


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