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Drive Less and Drive Smarter
Like most of urban America, the Bay Area has a host of problems that can be traced straight to one thing: too many automobiles. Noise, congestion, sprawl, and other problems aside, cars create enormous amounts of pollution, harm habitats and air and water quality, and contribute to global warming. It's time to rethink our relationship with the automobile; here are some tips for driving less and driving smarter.

Drive Less

  • Use public transit. Instead of hopping into your car every day, take advantage of the Bay Area's extensive local bus service, BART, CalTrain or light rail. All are much less polluting than driving. Visit the comprehensive website of the Bay Area Transit Information Project at www.transitinfo.org. If you can't commute every day by bus or rail, try to do so at least one or two days a week. And remember, many employers participate in the Commuter Check program, in which pretax salary dollars are deferred to pay for transit passes. If your employer pays parking costs for employees who drive to work, ask about Commuter Checks or free transit passes.

  • Carpool. If you do drive, consider carpooling. If every commuter car in the United States carried just one more passenger, we'd save 32 million gallons of gasoline (and the pollution producing and burning it creates) every working day.

  • Combine your trips. Bundle your errands to make fewer car trips -- motor vehicles do their worst polluting right after a cold start. For short trips, consider skipping the car altogether -- try walking or riding a bike.

  • Join a car co-op. If you live in San Francisco and only occasionally need a car, try City Car Share, a new co-op designed to allow members to check out cars using a reservation system. Learn more at www.sfcarshare.org/.

  • Choose a compact neighborhood. When you next move, look for a compact neighborhood, where good transit service and walkable streets cut driving by a substantial amount. In the Bay Area, Location Efficient MortgagesSM (LEMs) make these moves easier. LEMs increase the amount of money homebuyers in dense areas can borrow by taking into account the money they save by living near shops and public transit. Countrywide Home Loans provides LEMs; contact them at (888) 390-2418. You can learn more about LEMs in NRDC's Smart Growth pages.

Drive Smarter

  • Keep your car in good condition. Get regular tune-ups, keep your tires properly inflated and change the oil. You'll increase your car's fuel efficiency by as much as 10 percent, and thereby reduce emissions. Remember to dispose of used oil properly -- never pour it down the drain. To find the nearest recycling facility, call (800) CLEANUP.

  • Buy a low-emissions car. The next time you're shopping for a car, consider a new gasoline-electric hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle. Today's cutting-edge vehicles of this type, such as the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, are much cleaner and get double the miles per gallon of conventional cars. NRDC's Break the Chain website looks at the advantages of the hybrids and how detroit could build better conventional cars.

  • In addition, some conventional cars are better than others. To find a car with the lowest possible emissions -- generally a smaller and more efficient vehicle -- visit the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's Green Book Online. The California Air Resources Board also maintains lists of state-certified Low Emissions Vehicles. When you're shopping, consider whether you really need such extra features as automatic transmission and four-wheel drive; they eat into gas mileage. Finally, don't even consider buying a car that burns diesel fuel.