Climbing onto the SCAT bus Thursday in Ventura was quite a struggle for Richard Reiner.
He had to haul along his portable oxygen equipment, a steady source of clean air that he relies on 24 hours a day to battle the effects of advanced emphysema.
Reiner, 65, was riding the bus to promote Don't Drive Alone Day, the American Lung Assn. of Ventura County's push to reduce traffic on the county's roads and clean up the air by car-pooling, riding bicycles and buses, or just walking.
Reiner, who developed emphysema from smoking, doesn't need a pollution index to know how smoggy the county's air is on any given day.
"My lungs just close up," he said. "I can't breathe. There were a few days last week when I didn't go out of the house."
Reiner, a lung association volunteer, was driven to the bus stop in a non-polluting Southern California Gas Co. non-polluting van, powered by natural gas. The SCAT bus was powered by methanol instead of gasoline.
Riding with Reiner on the bus was County Supervisor Susan K. Lacey.
"There were a lot of nice people on the bus," Lacey said. "One lady was riding because of the special day."
Don't Drive Alone Day was among several events sponsored by the lung association in connection with Clean Air Week.
"Air pollution contributes to lung disease, the third leading cause of death in the United States," said George Yu, a pulmonary specialist and vice president of programs for the county lung association. In Ventura County, about 50% of outdoor air pollution is attributed to motor vehicles.
To encourage people to leave their cars at home, SCAT and other transit systems offered free or reduced fares Thursday. Local government officials also got into the act.
Ventura Mayor Greg Carson was seen breezing around town Thursday on his 10-speed bike.
"It's kind of awkward in a suit and tie," he said, after riding from City Hall to a conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Ventura. "But I believe in it. We need to do more." About 35% of Ventura's employees car-pool, and more than that did so Thursday, officials said.