Gas Prices Increase Bus Use

6/3/2008 Fresno, CA Use of trolleys and streetcars is up ten percent. Commuter train use is up nearly six percent. Subways are up more than four percent and bus rider ship is up two percent.

The public transportation surge is taking hold here in the Valley.

The big jump in gas prices has lead to a big jump in folks getting on the bus. The manager of the public transportation system in Clovis, Shonna Halterman tells us it's "An increase larger than we've ever seen in one period of time."

Clovis Stage Lines saw an 18 percent jump in rider ship last month and Halterman says it is likely to go higher. "With the gas prices, I wouldn't be surprised we have had this huge increase in rider ship, it's really been over the last six months.

On the much bigger Fresno Area Express, it's up more than 20 percent.

Fresno Transportation Director, Ken Hamm, says "For most of the routes we're able to handle that okay the reality is that for a few of the core routes, this could put some stress on our system."

If rider ship keeps going up, both systems may expand.

"We're looking at whether we need to be buying additional vehicles, whether we need to go to some additional headways on the routes, it'll be interesting to watch this unfold to see how much the price of gas drives us," says Hamm.

Halterman says "We need more people, more vehicles, and more drivers."

With gas at more than four dollars a gallon, a one dollar bus ride has become a bargain. Fresno bus rider, Joe Zapata, says it saves him "Plenty of money. Lots of money."

Most bus riders we spoke with were generally satisfied with the service, in both cities. The biggest complaints were over how long it takes to get somewhere.

A 15 minute drive in a car could take an hour by bus.

A visitor from San Francisco, who's been riding Fresno buses for a few days, has a suggestion. "Well, San Francisco public transport is very well developed. There's the BART and the MUNI and stops like everywhere every few minutes. Over here you have to wait at least twenty or thirty minutes for the bus. So, I think that's the big difference."

Another way to make bus service better could be to create a single transportation district, merging all of the bus lines in the region into one service.

A study by the Fresno County Council of Governments looking at that is about to get underway. Such a plan could take years to work out but as gas prices keep rising, and more folks look to public transportation the public could demand faster action.

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