Spare the Air

In 1991 the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) launched Spare the Air – a voluntary program designed to curtail motor vehicle emissions and improve air quality through changing behaviors among commuters and increasing the general public’s knowledge and awareness of air quality issues. A public opinion survey, commuter travel choices survey, and focus groups conducted in multiple languages were used to obtain a baseline for public knowledge and awareness of air quality issues as well as perceptions of public transit. Messaging was created to inform the public of the negative impacts ground-level ozone has on human health and Spare the Air advisories were developed as a way of notifying the public anytime unsafe ozone levels were forecasted. Advisories were shared broadly via television stations, radio stations, newspapers, and the campaign website, but were also made available through phone, fax, or e-mail for individuals that signed up to be a part of the campaign’s network. Local businesses/employers that registered to take part in the program received recognition on the program’s website and were offered support materials and an employer toolbox to help them share Spare the Air messaging with their employees. To increase employee participation businesses offered a variety of incentives connected to the program including discounted transit fares, telecommute options, preferential parking for carpools, prize raffles, and guaranteed rides home for employees using alternative modes of transport. To further encourage Bay Area residents to reduce their use of personal vehicles, a non-profit corporation called RIDES offered free commute services and information on best options for carpooling, biking, public transit use, telecommuting, and more. Youth outreach was also incorporated into the campaign and achieved through schools, TV, and radio broadcasts. Through comic activity books and Spare the Air commercials, youth learned about ground level ozone pollution, the problems it posed, and actions individuals could take to help clean the air. On days where high ozone levels were predicted and participating residents were asked to change their behavior, immediate feedback was provided to let them know whether or not they had been successful in keeping ozone levels within safe limits. Surveys on program awareness and participation were conducted on selected Spare the Air days and completed by registered participants as well as members of the general public. 258,656 vehicle trips were reduced in 1999 resulting in the reduction of 3.36 tons of ozone-causing emissions. By the year 2000, 82% of the general public reported that they were aware of the Spare the Air campaign.

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