Mass transit picks up riders as gas prices rise

More and more people are riding the bus as the economy slowly recovers and gas prices skyrocket, transit officials and riders say.

Gas prices rose by more than 18 cents in February and could reach $5 per gallon by this summer, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

“It just makes sense,” said Lynnwood resident Vincent Ho, about riding transit.

Ho catches the bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center to attend school in Seattle. By riding the bus, Ho said, he saves money every day.

Verna Williams and Pam Schneider, two friends who live in Everett, rely on the Lynnwood Transit Center and agree gas prices have led them to drive only occasionally.

“We take the bus everywhere we go,” Schneider said.

There is an upswing in demand for riding transit, said Martin Munguia, a Community Transit spokesman.

The demand started to rise in late 2010, after a more than year-long dip in ridership.

That decline likely was because of the recession and higher unemployment rates, Munguia said.

Every time fuel prices jump, ridership spikes, as was the case in 2008, said Roland Behee, CT’s strategic planning unit manager. “If I could point to one single thing, it’d be gas prices,” Behee said.

Sound Transit is another agency seeing an increase in ridership on ST Express routes serving the South Snohomish corridors, spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said.

This is likely because of the recovering economy and more people returning to work, Reason said.

The average weekday ridership on ST Express buses across the region rose 9.4 percent from 2010 to 2011. Routes serving Snohomish County commuters saw increases, too. Routes from Ash Way to Seattle rose by 34 percent, Evergreen to 79th in Seattle by 46 percent and Everett to Seattle by 13 percent.

While Sound Transit doesn’t analyze ridership against external factors like gas prices or number of cars per household, there is a case for using transit to save money, Reason said. She recommends visiting the Public Transportation website to use a “Fuel Savings Calculator” that shows commuters how much gas money they can save by opting to ride transit. The website can be found at http://tinyurl.com/ transitsavingscalculator.

Ridership on Community Transit routes has not declined since service cuts, which could underscore the effect of gas prices, Munguia said.

“People have more incentive to make transit work for them, even if they have to adjust their schedules, catch the bus at a different location or make a transfer,” he said.

For those who do need to drive, websites such as WashingtonGasPrices.com can help savvy drivers find the cheapest pump. In Lynnwood last week, Costco and Arco were tied for the lowest price at $3.99 per gallon of regular unleaded. Chevron was the highest at $4.25 per gallon.

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