Leader Blues

Friday, August 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Free bus rides on Thursday

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Central Arkansas Transit Authority is offering free rides on Thursday, part of a promotion to increase ridership and reduce ozone levels.

Thatís ďRide the Bus to Work Free Day,Ē although itís free to all riders, not just those going to or from work, according to Betty Wineland, director of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority.

The Jacksonville-Sherwood express makes three morning trips to downtown Little Rock and two evening trips back.
Schedule and route information is available online at www.cat.org.

To test how efficient CATA buses are, I took one from downtown Little Rock, where I live, to McCain Mall on Wednesday.

Even before gasoline was $4 a gallon, mass transit was thought of as an important factor in reducing ozone, reducing our ďcarbon footprint,Ē reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing congestion and overcrowding on streets and highways.

In June, I rode the subway between a Broadway play and my brotherís home in Brooklyn and more recently, a trolley from the French Market to the D-Day World War II museum in New Orleans and found both experiences easy and convenient.

But although Iíve lived in central Arkansas for several years, I donít recall ever having ridden the bus here.

So after covering a Metroplan board meeting in downtown Little Rock, I headed to the Other Center across McCain Boulevard from the mall to treat myself to lunch, then coffee and a couple of hours of reading at Barnes and Noble.

According to my stopwatch, it took just over 25 minutes, but it seemed only minutes, as I was so engrossed in my latest Daniel Silva espionage novel.

The bus let me off at a stop on McCain Boulevard about 50 yards from Chiliís.

For the ride home, I had a printout of the bus schedule, so I knew what time the bus arrived at an unmarked bus stop in front of Dillardís or the designated bus stop at the other end of McCain Mall, just shy of Sears.

Both bus drivers seemed friendly and professional, both buses were clean and apparently well maintained.

The buses didnít start or stop suddenly and both of my trips were relaxing.

My truck gets about 16 miles a gallon, so I donít know that I saved any money by taking the bus. The fare was $1.25 each way.

But if the trip had been longer I would have saved.

But I did avoid pumping 10 miles worth of environmental pollutants into the air from my inefficient truck.

Officials tell us that the more we use busesóor light rail in the futureóthe more efficient mass transit will become and more buses, routes and stops can be added. Free bus trips on Thursday are made possible by a partnership between Ozone Action Days and Central Arkansas Transit Authority.

Central Arkansas Ozone Action Days were created in 1997 to increase awareness of ozone air pollution, reduce the health risks associated with exposure to ground-level ozone and help keep the region in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone.

Although ozone in the upper atmosphere serves a useful purpose by shielding the earth from ultraviolet rays, ground-level ozone can cause heath problems in humans (causing, in effect, a sunburn on the lungs) and damage to vegetation.

When high-pressure weather patterns stagnate over the southeastern United States, ground-level ozone concentrations can build up.

The major contributing pollutants are emitted by cars, trucks, industrial smoke stacks, construction and farm equipment, lawn mowers, all-terrain vehicles, aircraft and motor boats.

Bus riding and carpooling are just two of the many ways central Arkansans can reduce tailpipe emissions that contribute to ozone formation, said Jim McKenzie, Metroplan executive director.