Bus ridership in Toledo increased by 2.5 percent during the first half of 2005, a gain that the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority attributed, in part, to soaring gasoline prices.
Part of the increase occurred because more passengers made trips that required transferring to a second bus. TARTA's statistics also show an increase in the number of free riders because of three air-quality alerts in June.
James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said he believes the local price of gasoline - which has been near or over $2 per gallon for self-service, unleaded regular since early March - has to explain at least some of the ridership increase because bus service has declined slightly this year with the elimination of the lightly used route to Toledo Express Airport.
"We've had a better economy, so there may be more people going to work. But I think it's more along the lines of high gas prices," Mr. Gee said yesterday.
Mr. Gee said the ridership growth trend was under way well before June, when the three Ozone Action! days occurred on what otherwise would have been revenue-producing weekdays for the local transit system.
No ozone alerts were called for Toledo during 2004, so the only free riders were police officers, firefighters, and TARTA employees, Mr. Gee said. While intended to induce commuters to leave their cars at home and thus reduce air pollution, the free-fare promotion on Ozone Action! days actually doesn't produce "a big bump" in ridership, the general manager said.
Indeed, while fare-paying adult ridership was up just 1.01 percent for the first half of the year, that figure improves to 4.6 percent if June is taken out.
Total ridership between January and June was 2,341,898, up 2.5 percent from 2,284,052 during the first half of 2004. Taking transferring passengers out of the total reduces the increase to 1.9 percent.
The fastest-growing TARTA services were the Sylvania Call-A-Ride, which began operating March 28, 2004, and the Mud Hens shuttles, whose ridership through June had risen to 11,851 from 10,935 during the same part of 2004.
The June ridership on the Sylvania Call-A-Ride increased to 1,261 from 722 last year. During the first six months of the year, 7,003 people used the route, compared with 1,746 between its startup and June 30 last year.
TARTA's base fare is 85 cents, plus 10 cents for transfers. The Call-A-Ride routes cost 50 cents, and seniors and people with disabilities may ride for 40 cents. The Mud Hens shuttles cost $1 round trip.
Transit authority statistics show 65.4 cents in fares were collected for each mile a TARTA passenger traveled, while operating cost per mile was $6.55, for a net operating deficit of $5.90 per passenger-mile. The transit authority's primary source of revenue is property tax levies collected in the nine communities the system serves - Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Rossford, Perrysburg, Maumee, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Waterville, and Spencer Township.
Sylvania was the third Toledo suburb in which the transit authority established Call-A-Ride service, after Perrysburg and Maumee. Six-month ridership on the Perrysburg route fell from 7,547 to 7,136 this year, while Maumee's Call-A-Ride patronage rose from 5,336 to 5,337 for the comparison period.
Call-A-Ride service began in Spencer Township on June 16 and will start in Rossford and Waterville on Aug. 28.
The Call-A-Ride buses operate on a designated loop route through their assigned communities from which they deviate to offer door-to-door service for riders who call in trip requests.
Passengers on board a Sylvania Call-A-Ride trip yesterday said they weren't there because of costly gasoline, but because they had no other way to get where they were going.
"My mom got hurt in a car accident and didn't feel like driving," Prentiss Gray, 13, of Valley Brook Drive, said to explain why he and cousin Deveyon Thomas-Hawkins, 12, of Kalamazoo, Mich., took the bus to get to the Sylvania YMCA/JCC for a swim in the pool. "We usually don't ride the bus at all," young Gray said.
Others on board said they don't have cars, so they rely on either the bus or rides from friends or relatives to get around.
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