Transit use rises along with gas prices

Kimer Laster would like to buy a car. But the 18-year-old was waiting Thursday afternoon for a bus at Everett Station, his bicycle at his side.

The Cascadia Community College student from Monroe said he’s been looking mostly at Honda vehicles, because of their comparatively high gas mileage. In the meantime, he gets around on Community Transit buses and his bike.

With the advent of $4-a-gallon gasoline and a new all-time high Thursday for Snohomish County prices, he’s not alone.

During March, Community Transit saw 70,000 more riders than a year ago, said Tom Pearce, the transit agency’s spokesman.

“Systemwide, we’re about 11 percent (over last year) from January through March,” he said, explaining that includes the agency’s vanpool and paratransit offerings. Average daily boardings on Community Transit’s regular buses actually are up slightly more than that.

The first three months of this year ranked among Community Transit’s five busiest months ever for ridership. Pearce said there are early signs that this month also will be one of the busiest ever.

Everett Transit, Sound Transit and King County’s Metro bus systems also have reported ridership bumps over the past year. Today’s National Bike-to-Work Day is attracting unusual interest, as is Community Transit’s Commuter Challenge program, Pearce said.

The trend may continue as gasoline costs keep rising. As of Thursday, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel in Snohomish County stood at $3.85, a new record for the county. That’s up more than a penny from the previous day, according to AAA’s daily tracking service. Most stations around Everett were charging a few cents more, however, and a few are already at $4.

Premium-grade fuel is averaging nearly $4.19 a gallon locally, according to AAA. Diesel is averaging $4.63 a gallon.

The new riders on Community Transit since last year include Ardie McLean of Snohomish. When she bought her Volkswagen New Beetle, it took $16 to fill up the tank. Now it takes $53.

“As soon as it hit $45 to fill up, that was it,” she said. The employee of Providence Hospice &Home Care started parking her car at the park-and-ride lot and taking the bus into Everett.

“For me, it’s so convenient,” she said, adding that her employer pays for her bus pass. Between that and the extra time she now has for reading during the ride, she said she has no regrets about the commute change.

Bellevue resident Joe Kozelisky, 30, who’s working on a construction project in Everett, said he began taking the bus often after his car was stolen. He and his wife have another car, but he said it’s cheaper and easier if he just takes the bus.

“Just to go from Bellevue to Seattle, I spend a gallon of gas,” he said. “When I was working in downtown Seattle, I also had to pay to park.”

Cerissa Crabb, waiting to board a bus from Everett Station, said she’s not impressed with the convenience of the bus. The Granite Falls resident works in Everett and finds the bus schedule doesn’t line up well with her job schedule.

“They don’t have it at the right times,” she said, adding that means her commuting habits haven’t changed because of gas prices. “I still drive as much.”

Also still driving, and filling up his Chevrolet Blazer’s gas tank, is Carlo Irwin of Lake Stevens. He didn’t notice at first that he was paying $3.99 9/10 — just a tenth of a cent below $4 — per gallon at the 76 station near Frontier Village.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “Lucky for me, I don’t have a lot of commuting to do. I work close by.”

Holiday travel

The number of Americans traveling at least 50 miles from home during Memorial Day weekend will fall slightly, according to a AAA survey. The automotive association estimates 37.9 million Americans will travel during the holiday period, down about 1 percent from last year’s total. Though recent Memorial Day periods have seen some of the highest gas prices of the year, this will be the first time that total has fallen since 2002, said AAA spokeswoman Janet Ray.

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