Monday was the fourth official "Spare The Air Day" where, according to some set of federal indexes, the Bay Area can declare a potentially terrible air pollution problem some days in advance, and all of Bay Area public transportation is free to the public in order to encourage them to get out of their cars.
Unfortunately, transportation bureaucrats seem to be terrible at planning for special occasions, so the well-intentioned "Spare The Air" days are often fraught with unintended consequences.
For example, you would think there would be extra buses set up by Muni for the large crowds on July 4th who go to Crissy Field to watch fireworks, but of course you would be wrong. They run on a reduced "Holiday" schedule instead, and thousands of people are left trudging up Van Ness Avenue helplessly.
Or at the end of June's Gay Pride Parade Day, which hundreds of thousands of people attend, you would imagine Muni might put on a few special trains underground running up and down Market Street to the Castro District, but again you would be wrong. They run on reduced "Sunday" service and there are thousands of people who just give up and either walk or or try to find an elusive cab.
The Golden Gate ferry boat services from Sausalito and Larkspur to San Francisco are used by quite a few Monday through Friday commuters, but on "Spare The Air" days, there are quite a few commuters who are ready to throw in the towel.
According to an amusing letter that was in the "Chronicle" and on the internet from a Sausalito commuter, he was ready to pull out his gas-guzzling car for a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, because the local daytrippers and tourists drawn to the ferries by the promise of a free boat ride were making it impossible for him to use those same ferries as transportation to work.
Experiencing the mob first hand, I can see his point.
In fact, the Vallejo and Oakland/Alameda ferry services refused to be part of the "free fare" service this time because it had so screwed up their operations the previous three "Spare The Air" days, and they had never been reimbursed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for their extra boats and staff which they had actually supplied.
According to Chuck Squatriglia at the "San Francisco Chronicle" (click here for full article):
Matt Naclerio, Alameda's director of public works, said the agency didn't learn of the Spare the Air designation until late Sunday afternoon and did not have time to add ferries and crews to handle extra riders. The agency spent $15,000 on such matters during the last previous Spare the Air days. Those costs are not reimbursed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Naclerio said.
"We just can't afford that," he said, adding that the ferry service had told the MTC it could not continue participating in the Spare the Air program because of the cost involved. "We apologize for the confusion. MTC is aware of our issue and the fact that we couldn't continue."
$15,000 is not that much money, and in truth, luring people to public transportation with inexpensive fares is good for everyone and their lungs.
Plus, a cheap boat ride is a wonderful way to improve everybody's quality of life.
Frankly, I can't think of a better use of my tax dollars. Please buy more boats and hire more crew.