Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bus ridership continues surge

Convenience and savings attract riders By ANNE PAINE • Staff Writer (Tennessean)• March 12, 2008 Bus ridership in Nashville has jumped 45 percent in six years, and it is projected to keep growing. The change comes amid rising gas prices and traffic congestion, expanding public transit offerings and concerns about global warming. New converts like Marlene Alvarez are finding riding a Metro Transit Authority bus addictive — for the service and the money savings. "I thought I would use this as a backup if the weather was crummy — snowy and icy," Alvarez said, standing at an MTA stop beside Legislative Plaza downtown. Instead, she has been taking the bus "at least four days a week" since January, she said. The trend in the popularity of mass transit is seen nationally, too, with public transportation use up 35 percent since 1995, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Passenger trips nationally hit 10.3 billion last year, the highest level in 50 years. Nashville's MTA, which reached 10 million trips in 1979 before falling off, is projected to reach more than 9.4 million in this fiscal year. New buses and services that include payment, on any bus, with credit and debit cards are helping, said Patricia Harris-Morehead, MTA spokeswoman. Other innovations include a $4 one-day pass that allows a rider to get on and off buses; new, easier-to-read system maps with tourist destinations and malls; a more frequent airport-downtown shuttle and better staff training, she said. Transit center is next The next step is for a $53.6 million transit center, built with 80 percent federal funding, with climate control, restrooms and shops to open at 400 Charlotte Ave., around October. One key has been a partnership in which employers, including the state and Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, pay for bus passes for their employees to and from work. Growing groups of workers can be found after work at bus stops downtown and around the schools. Belmont also provides the freebie to its students. Alvarez waited Tuesday afternoon for the Bellevue-bound bus with Regina Ranish. Both work for the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. "It's about a $100 a month saving in gas," said Ranish, who began riding the bus about a week ago. "It was a no-brainer. How much easier could it be?" Alvarez said she liked "being a little bit more environmentally conscious." Benefits add up The air benefits more than a little, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which promotes mass transit to curb global warming. A commuter leaving his car at home just two days a week reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,600 pounds per year. The only complaint from Ranish and a few other riders Tuesday was about crowded buses that leave some standing. Jerry Wester, who works for the state Department of Human Services, however, said he can live with it on his bus ride to and from Rutherford County. "I don't mind standing up because of the money saved," he said with a laugh.

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