The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will take a stab today at cajoling workers to use alternative means of transportation to and from their jobs, the goal being to reduce traffic congestion and shrink our carbon footprint.
Both are admirable objectives, but many see it as a fool’s mission. Getting Californians out of their cars and into multi-occupant transportation is daunting, to say the least.
Cars weren’t invented in California, but they have managed to the takeover of an entire culture, which is clear as day in satellite photos of this state, and its spider web of interstates and freeways.
The board directed staff late last year to come up with ideas on how to convince county workers to at least share a ride with someone else going to work. That will be a major task, given that a survey of county government employees indicates nearly three-quarters of them drive to work alone, with the remainder using carpooling, buses and/or bikes, motorcycles, skateboards, with a small fraction working via telecommuting.
In other words, workers will take a lot of convincing to abandon their cars and line up to be taken to work. That’s a shame, because so many county employees travel considerable distances — usually alone in their car or truck — to get to county government’s home base in Santa Barbara.
The aforementioned survey shows more than 800 county workers traveling from San Luis Obispo County and our own North County to the South Coast. Another 300 or so drive up from Ventura County.
The flow from south to north is less pronounced, with 136 workers from South County, Buellton, Solvang and Lompoc driving to their county jobs in Santa Maria.
County officials have attempted to stem the flow in the past, offering employees a pretax contribution of $10 a month for bus fare, if the worker also kicks in $10 a month. The scheme attracted only 2 percent of commuters.
The county had slightly better success with a program that gives employees up to two extra vacation days a year, if they use a county-sanctioned method of commuting at least 80 percent of the days in a pay period. Just more than 10 percent of the work force signed up.
All of which makes it abundantly clear that a vast majority of workers are not prepared to give up their single-occupant commute, and unless county officials are willing to expand existing reward programs, those cars are likely to stay on the road.
One option to be considered at today’s board meeting in Santa Maria would expand the rewards incentives, considerably, which staff analysis indicates would take up to 132 cars off the road.
That may not seem to be making a big dent in traffic congestion, until you consider that removing 132 commuting vehicles each work day could mean an annual reduction of more than a million pounds of greenhouse gasses. A slow but efficient way of reducing that carbon footprint.
The problem is — as it almost always is at every level of government — the cost to taxpayers. County staff reckons it could add up to $245,000 a year more on county government’s expense side, at a time board members are struggling with budget priorities.
In that regard, county government is like just about every other government jurisdiction.
We are hoping the day will come when Santa Barbara County residents understand the full implications of the carbon-footprint and traffic congestion issues, and voluntarily give up their single-occupant commuting. We are not holding our breath, but we can still hope.