Free Rides About Done

August 8, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Wednesday marked the ninth Ozone Action! Day declared for West Michigan so far this summer, and after the 10th Ozone Action! Day comes and goes, free rides on The Rapid transit system will end.

This is the first year The Rapid has offered free rides on all its fixed routes for up to as many as 10 days during Ozone Action! season, which runs from May 1 to Sept. 30. Ridership on those days has been up an average of 20 percent, said Jennifer Kalczuk, spokesperson for the transit system.

The ozone layer miles above the earth's surface protects humans from solar ultraviolet radiation, but ground level ozone damages lung tissue.

The Rapid wanted to limit the amount of ground-level ozone created and felt the best way to achieve that was to offer free bus rides to reduce the number vehicles on the road, Kalczuk said. The agency applied for funds to cover 10 days because that's the average number of Ozone Action! days the area sees in a year, she explained.

"Last year we had one, but there have been other years where we've had in excess of 20. But 10 seems to be about the average."

The Ozone Action! Day free ride program is being covered with combined federal and state grants totaling $68,288. The Rapid arrived at that figure by averaging daily fare box sales times 10.

An Ozone Action! Day is declared when state weather forecasters predict that conditions will be conducive to the formation of ozone, the primary ingredient in urban smog. Ozone concentrations can reach unhealthy levels when the weather is hot and sunny with relatively light winds, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thus far, the agency has deemed nine days this summer as "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

A network of air quality monitoring stations in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties continually monitor ozone levels during the season.

Ozone is produced by a number of sources, including man-made sources such as fossil fuel emissions released by cars, trucks, buses, boats, trains, industrial plants and off-road engines like lawn, garden, construction and farm equipment.

West Michigan may not see another Ozone Action! Day this season, or it could see five more, but there's only enough funding left for one more day of free rides, Kalczuk said.

She said The Rapid has submitted a request as part of its grant package to offer the Ozone Action! Day free ride program again next year.    

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