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from 7/21/06 SF Chronicle : Spare the Air, Spur Economy

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  • Karen Babbitt
    MANY BAY AREA residents have spent the last few days jostling for free rides on BART and the ferries, which led us to wonder where everyone was going on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 21 3:46 PM
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      MANY BAY AREA residents have spent the last few days jostling for free rides on BART and the ferries, which led us to wonder where everyone was going on Spare the Air Day. The answer became clear during an early-afternoon stroll in downtown San Francisco Thursday: They're going everywhere but work.
      Seriously. We saw them. Way too many of them -- lounging on every inch of green in Union Square, thinning the racks at H&M, cramming into every shop that sells soft-serve ice cream. Many of them were carrying large bottles of water and tangles of electronic equipment, but many of them weren't. Nearly all of them, however, seemed to be clutching shopping bags. Hmm.
      They have earned some humorless weekday commuters' ire for the enthusiasm with which they've been packing trains, buses and ferries for the past few days. BART estimates that midday "leisure" travel shoots up 75 percent on free-ride days. This leads us to two conclusions as we approach the summer's Spare the Air finale today:
      -- The Bay Area Air Quality Management District ought to partner with local chambers of commerce to declare "Spare the Air, Save the Economy" days, and;
      -- It's time for local governments to consider the idea that subsidizing public transit, especially in off-peak hours, pays off in other ways.
      Few local business organizations have studied economic fluctuations during Spare the Air days, but we've heard a great deal of anecdotal evidence about the impact of free rides on business traffic.
      Karen Bell of the Fisherman's Wharf community told us that her neighborhood's businesses have definitely seen an uptick this week -- and a lot of the foot traffic is local. Market Street was unusually thick with shoppers Thursday.
      All of this bodes well for employers, job seekers and local government tax receipts. Spare the Air days are proving that offering good public transportation -- quick, cheap, easy to navigate -- creates benefits that we can't afford to spare.
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