Spare the Air turnout down on Bay ferries

If ridership numbers from two public transit agencies are any indication, fewer people took advantage of Spare the Air day on Wednesday than on the average free transit day in 2006, and it may stem from most agencies cutting off free service at 1 p.m. for the first time.

Figures from BART, AC Transit, Caltrain and ACE Train won’t be available until this morning, but the two groups that did release its figures indicated that fewer people took the free ride. The Air Quality Program Manager for Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Wednesday that Bay Area residents will be offered a second day of free transit service today.

The Golden Gate Larkspur Ferry saw a 31 percent increase in ridership compared with a typical day. Last year, the ferry averaged a 93 percent increase during Spare the Air days, including a 117 percent increase July 21, the last free day of transit before Wednesday.

The much smaller Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry saw its passenger turnout increase by 209 percent Wednesday over a normal day. That compares with an average increase of 326 percent during last year’s Spare the Air days.

The good news for public transit is that the numbers may be down because the people who took free rides last year are now everyday users, said Terry Lee, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Both ferries have witnessed an average increase of overall users this year compared with last year.

The free rides were cut off at 1 p.m. this year because of overcrowding that often caused safety and crime concerns, district spokeswoman Karen Schkolnick said.

But Lee said the numbers from today’s free ride services probably won’t be up much, either.

Officials also attributed the decrease to the lack of extreme temperatures this week, compared with the more-than-100-degree heat wave that hit the Bay Area last July.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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