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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023


Hundreds of San Fernando Valley companies that thought they had seen the end of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s mandatory carpool program may be in for a rude awakening: The return of ridesharing. Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill exempting small and mid-sized firms from the ridesharing mandates. But, barring more legislative action, as of June 1 some 2,800 worksites in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties with between 100 and 249 employees will have to comply with an AQMD regulation that requires either ridesharing or alternative smog-reduction programs. So what happened to the exemption? Amid all the hoopla surrounding the passage of the mandatory rideshare exemption was a little-noticed clause that required the AQMD to certify each year that the exempted companies would remove just as much emissions from the air through voluntary measures as they would have by complying with the program. Otherwise, the program returns. Earlier this month, the AQMD released results of a survey showing that the voluntary measures have not achieved equivalent emission reductions; thus, the program automatically returns on June 1. “I’m afraid a lot of employers are going to get a rude awakening when they find out they still have to comply with ridesharing or its alternatives,” said John Miranda, the employee transportation coordinator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Miranda also assists in ridesharing efforts on behalf of several Pasadena firms as head of the Pasadena Transportation Management Association. Employers who do not wish to set up carpool programs will instead be forced to choose from a list of other options, such as paying a fee of $60 per employee to the AQMD or paying a contractor to scrap old cars. The only way that these employers will remain off the hook is if the state Legislature changes the law that exempted them in the first place. State Sen. John Lewis, R-Orange, who authored the law, known as SB 836, said he plans to sit down with AQMD officials and seek modifications. “I want to make sure that whatever happens, mandatory ridesharing does not return,” Lewis said. “The mandatory ridesharing program is a boondoggle that drives up the cost of doing business in California.” The AQMD imposed its original rideshare mandate in 1989 on 4,500 worksites with more than 100 employees. But employers chafed under the reporting and filing requirements and questioned the program’s effectiveness in actually reducing emissions. The rule quickly became a lightning rod, providing the chief spark behind the drive by Republicans in the state Legislature to rein in the authority of the air quality agency in the mid-1990s. Under mounting pressure from business groups and legislators, the AQMD board in 1995 revised the ridesharing mandate, adding the menu of alternative options. A year later, Republicans, led by Lewis, managed to pass a bill through the state Legislature exempting employers with between 100 and 249 employees from the revised ridesharing rule. However, Lewis’ clout in the Legislature has decreased since 1996, when his party had control of the state Assembly and the governor’s mansion. Both the Senate and the Assembly now have Democrat majorities. And, there also will be added pressure from environmental groups. “We didn’t like the exemption when it passed, but we liked it a little more with the provision that it would expire if the emission reductions were not met through voluntary means,” said Linda Waade, executive director of the Coalition for Clean Air. “To no one’s surprise, the carrot didn’t work here; you need some sort of stick to force employers to reduce emissions.” In the survey released earlier this month, the AQMD found that there had been no significant change in the level of carpooling at worksites with 100 to 249 employees. The average number of persons in a vehicle rose 0.2 percent, as compared to 0.8 percent in 1996. “The level of carpooling remained essentially flat,” said Catherine Wasikowski, the AQMD’s rideshare program director. Meanwhile, emissions of hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide all commonly found in car exhaust and gasoline fumes actually increased at these sites. Had these firms not been exempted, these emissions had been projected to decrease, she said. The prospect of ridesharing programs becoming mandatory again does not appeal to Noreen Shaffer, director of Human Resources at Westchester-based Citizen Watch Co. of America, which has 140 employees. After the legislative exemption took effect in Jan. 1997, Citizen discontinued its main incentive program for employees: an annual raffle for those who carpooled most frequently. “We found that the program took money out of our operations and didn’t encourage many more people to carpool,” Shaffer said. If the program is reinstated, she said, the raffle will likely return.

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