Sparing the air is easy and free in the Sacramento region.
The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District together are helping reduce ozone pollution by providing an alert system for poor-quality air days. Their alert notifies Sacramento-area counties including Yolo during smog season, May through October.
Days when the air quality index is 150 or above are deemed Spare the Air days. In Yolo County these days mean free public transportation on Yolobus and Unitrans buses.
Each year, Yolobus budgets 15 free-ride days for the Spare the Air program and gets some funding from Sacramento and Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management Districts, said Yolo County Transportation District executive director Terry Bassett.
Funding for the program also comes from the federal government. This summer the Federal Transit Administration gave Yolobus a two-year grant of $62,290 to cover up to 24 free-ride days.
“We feel Spare the Air is a good community service,” Bassett said. “We also give out free water on hot days during peak hours for commuters. You have to put yourself in your riders‘ shoes.“
So far, there have been eight Spare the Air days this year.
“If I had to guess, I’d say there will be at least a few more days. There is usually at least one in September,” said Unitrans assistant general manager Anthony Palmere.
Unitrans has also participated in the Spare the Air program for about eight years, though they do not receive any outside funding, Palmere said.
“We get very little cash fares, so the impact of the free days is relatively small,” he said. “Overall, Spare the Air does not have a negative impact.“
Air quality is of particular concern for the Sacramento region, said Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District spokesperson Lori Kobza.
“Because we’re in a valley, we’re like a bathtub drain,” Kobza said.
Though air quality is not directly correlated with heat, the district is more concerned when there is triple-digit weather, she said.
The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District’s role is to manage and coordinate everything on behalf of other districts and to determine whether the air quality is poor, Kobza said.
Different districts do have different air qualities, but all counties are united in fighting air pollution, Coulter said.
“All districts are in this together. Pollution doesn’t stop at county lines,” Kobza said.
The Yolo-Solano district also informs the public of Spare the Air days, said public information officer Kathy Coulter.
“The role of the [Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District] is to get the word out that it is a ‘Spare the Air‘ day and to tell people to change their behaviors such as not using lighter fluid or biking instead of driving,” Coulter said.
Even though UC Davis students ride for free on Unitrans and Yolobus regardless of the air quality index, they can receive alerts about poor air quality days. Sign up for free at myairalert.net.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at email@example.com.