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IRVINE : City May Sweeten Pot for Commuters

More extensive--and expensive--measures will be required in the new year to encourage city employees to car-pool, ride bicycles, buses or walk to work.

Under Southern California air quality rules, the city of Irvine, like all large employers, must encourage employees to reduce the number of times they drive to work alone.

Irvine’s first attempt at achieving the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s goal of an average 1.5 workers per car at City Hall fell far short, said Douglas C. Reilly, executive director of the city’s transportation authority. A yearlong effort of cash and other incentives achieved only an average of 1.11 workers per car, meaning 468 more car trips to City Hall need to be eliminated each week to meet the goal, he said.

To encourage workers to participate in the city’s trip-reduction program, on Jan. 8 the City Council is scheduled to consider an expanded program that will raise the city’s cost from about $87,000 a year to about $200,000.

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The existing program, adopted in 1989, offers employees who come to work at least half the time without their cars an added $25 a month in cash, free bicycles for those wishing to pedal to work, preferential parking spaces and on-site oil changes for car-poolers, a free lunch and awards ceremony four times a year and other programs.

But those incentives failed to coax enough people out of their cars, said Reilly, who car-pools one day a week.

The plan council members will consider would add incentives and ask permission to switch more employees to shortened workweeks. Those incentives include a guaranteed ride home for car-poolers who must unexpectedly leave work early, bus and rail passes, and a lunchtime shuttle that would cruise by shopping, banking and restaurant areas.

The commuter bonuses are intended to eliminate some of the reasons people give for driving to work alone, Reilly said.

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