In an effort to reduce ozone pollution, several transit agencies are offering free or reduced fare rides to residents.
The Lehigh and Northhampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) in Allentown, Pa., offers free bus rides on “code red ozone” days. Those occur when intense summer heat mingles with noxious emissions gases to form ground-level ozone, which can irritate the lungs and exacerbate breathing and respiratory problems. Hoping to discourage people from driving their cars on those days, passengers can board the bus and pass a covered fare box exclaiming: “Today is an Ozone Code Red Day.”
Barbara Finken, of LANTA’s department of development, explains how the word is spread when an Ozone Code Red Day is impending. “I get the notification usually about 2 p.m. the day before. I make calls to dispatches in Allentown and Easton, then I phone marketing, who in turn notify radio and television stations and all area newspapers,” she said.
LANTA has reported a marked increase in the amount of riders on these free days, including a 50% increase in one day. However, the local Ozone Action Partnership only has funding for the next three summers. Thus far, there are no signs that the government will step in at the end of this period and subsidize future rides, Finken said.
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) has been implementing a similar program for the past six years. RIPTA reports that bus ridership rises substantially on “ozone alert” days. Not only is the community attempting to reduce ozone pollution, but it is also hoping to gain more paying customers year-round for the public transportation system. Money for the program comes from the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Program.
The notification system is very similar to LANTA’s, the only difference being that Rhode Island residents can check the RIPTA Website for ozone alert days. In addition, RIPTA has an e-mail service that automatically notifies individuals who want to be apprised of ozone alert days.
The OzonePass program at New Jersey Transit allows New Jersey companies to offer their employees a $2 round-trip ticket for use on any NJ Transit bus, train or light rail line on days when high levels of ozone pollution are predicted. This summer, NJ Transit sold about 5,000 passes, nearly twice the number from last year.
The pass is sold to employers, who can sell or give the passes to their employees. The day before unhealthy ozone pollution levels are expected, the Ozone Action Partnership alerts those companies via fax or e-mail.