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Commuting on a Bad Air Day

Forecasters say the air is likely to contain unhealthy levels of ozone on Monday, and on any such Code Red alert day, most local buses in the Washington suburbs are free.

Local governments subsidize this free ride program to encourage people to leave their cars at home and cut down on pollution. Of course, the downside is that you'll have to walk through that same bad air to reach the bus stop.

But if you're willing to do that, and can dress according to the weather, then a free ride day is a good time to check out these bus systems, which might provide an alternative to gas guzzling even on good weather days.

Participants in the program include most of the local public bus lines in the suburbs. Some Metrobuses in the suburbs will be free, too, but most of the ones that operate in the District are not. (The D.C. government doesn't participate.)

Look for a sign on the bus that says something like, "Code Red Day, Ride Free" and has the farebox covered. You'll find a helpful guide to the free ride program here, on the CommuterPage.com Web site. (That site is an excellent resource for anyone who is thinking about making a switch to Metrorail, the buses or the suburban train lines.)

Other suggestions for the hot days:

-- Anticipate longer trips home. MARC, VRE and Metrorail could be subject to heat restrictions during the afternoons. This happens every summer on very hot days. The trains must slow down for safety in areas where rails might develop heat kinks.

-- Train equipment, especially old train equipment, is prone to malfunction under the stress of hot weather, so delays make spike over the next couple of days.

-- Remind yourself before you board a train car that there's usually a sunny side and a shady side, which can make a big difference in your comfort.

-- On Monday and Tuesday, the Metrorail lady's message to "Move to the center of the car" will be particularly good advice, since heat will pour into the cars every time the doors open.

-- Metro trains, buses and rail stations are cooled, but the temperatures can vary and sometimes the equipment is just busted. If you think you're on a train or bus without working air and you want to help out future passengers, get the number of the bus or rail car and call it in to Metro at 202-637-1328.

-- Unless the air conditioning at work is better than at home, this is a good week to telecommute, if you have that option.

-- For the sake of the air quality, try to avoid filling your vehicle's gas tank during the daylight hours.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 8, 2008; 3:24 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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