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Don’t Lose ZZZs Over License-Plate Numbers; 3 Is Next

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

Being an incurable license plate freak, I’m wondering what course the Department of Motor Vehicles will take when California plate number 2ZZZ999 is finally issued. Will they change color arrangement, go to a “4" prefix or reverse the numbers and letter order--such as 111AAA2? Or what?

This is extremely important. I can’t go to sleep at night just worrying over this.

Jack C. Caskey, Anaheim Can’t sleep? Haven’t you been reading Street Smart lately? I’ve got just the prescription, an answer that will have Zs coming out of your mouth in no time.

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About 2 million new license plates are spit out each year by the men at Folsom Prison, who have a contract to produce every plate in the state. At that rate, we should reach good old 2ZZZ999 around mid-decade. (For those who care about such things, we started on the “2" series on Oct. 13, 1982.)

On the momentous day we use up every last letter and number behind the 2, the “3" series will begin rolling hot off the Folsom plate-stamping presses. Each plate will carry the number 3 followed by a combination of three letters and three numbers.

“Wait just a darn minute,” you say. “There are already plates out on the road that start with 3.”

True, true. But there’s a catch.

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Those plates are issued to commercial trucks and vans. Serious license plate buffs will note that these commercial plates carry a sequence of letters and numbers that is completely different from those on cars. The number 3 on commercial plates is followed by only one letter, then a combination of five numbers. An example: 3L57623.

All this, of course, begs the question, something that burns in the mind of any motorist who has stared blankly for two hours at the bumper of the car ahead during a Friday afternoon traffic jam on the Santa Ana Freeway.

What happens when we reach license plate 9ZZZ999?

One official admitted that the DMV has not begun preparing for that far-off day, which is expected to arrive in the latter half of the 21st Century. Not to worry. Maybe the guys at Folsom will just start all over again at AAA111, he said. Or maybe we’ll add another number.

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Besides, most of us past the New Kids on the Block age will be driving down a far different highway by then, some of us headed north, some of us south. And any geriatric survivors of the smog-filled 1990s probably won’t need a license plate anyway; they’ll be beaming up to visit the grandkids on Venus.

Dear Street Smart:

While California has got its heart in the right place by encouraging ride-sharing in an attempt to solve the road congestion problem in Southern California, it appears that an opportunity to reduce the problem has been overlooked. An increasing number of employees spend the majority of their working day sitting at the keyboard of a personal computer interacting with other staff members electronically. It seems absurd that we continue to review inconvenient and expensive strategies for moving the employee to the workplace when he could more easily work from home, at least for a couple of days each week.

Personal computers are quite cheap, and phone costs are minimal when compared to the cost of commuting. Information is considerably less expensive to move than people.

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Telecommuting, as the computer industry calls it, is an attractive and inexpensive alternative to the daily ritual of fighting congested freeways. There are many incidental advantages to working at home several days a week such as reduced noise and fewer interruptions, not to mention the cost savings to employers, since less office space is required. Why then is this appealing alternative not being promoted along with other solutions as a part of the program to reduce traffic and pollution in Southern California?

Stephen G. Birch, Anaheim Indeed. Why bring the worker to the workplace when you can bring the workplace to the worker? The personal computer has allowed us to do just that. Unfortunately, acceptance of telecommuting has been slow to take hold.

While telecommuting has been promoted by transportation authorities (there is a major conference on it, for instance, planned at UC Irvine next year) as a technique to reduce trips to work, it typically gets second or third billing to alternatives such as car-pooling and mass transit. Face it, transportation people are geared to think about moving people, not information and ideas. They have only recently begun to consider telecommuting an integral part of the menu of options for easing congestion on our streets and freeways.

Telephone companies such as Pacific Bell have made more of a quantum leap, and are both preaching and practicing the telecommuting gospel. Even some local governments have taken on telecommuting. Los Angeles County, for example, has 800 workers participating in a telecommuting program.

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But most private firms have been slow to embrace the notion of allowing workers to get the job done at home. Tom Brady, a telecommuting expert at the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said studies show that many employees--especially those who are extremely self-directed--can work even more productively at home. But mid-level managers at many firms are reluctant to accept the practice because it puts workers out of sight, prompting worries about whether the job is getting done, he said.

Government regulations may ultimately usher in a new era. The sweeping Southern California air-pollution control law, Regulation 15, requires firms with more than 100 employees to reduce the number of trips by workers or face stiff fines. But firms are finding it difficult to reduce trips by getting workers to switch to mass transit or car-pooling.

As a result, companies may find that telecommuting offers great promise for meeting the new laws. But it will take time. The full force of Regulation 15 is only just beginning to be felt.

“A lot of the resistance is due mostly to tradition,” Brady said. “But our feeling is that as these Regulation 15-type requirements get harder and harder to meet, the resistance will begin to fade.”

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Dear Street Smart:

You replied to Walt Smith’s letter regarding the troubled traffic light at Newport Avenue and Foothill Boulevard by stating that you called the county Environmental Management Agency’s transportation division and they sent a crew to review and repair it.

Your reply would have been very “reader friendly” had you included the telephone number of the transportation division.

Amin David, Anaheim I advocate letting your fingers do the walking through the phone pages to find such numbers. But, just this once, here are the phone numbers to call for street problems in unincorporated county territory: For troubles with signal lights, try the traffic engineering division, (714) 834-3483. For road maintenance problems, ring up the Public Works Department, (714) 567-6300.

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