COLUMBIA — Gas prices are hitting wallets harder these days, but free city bus rides were offered as part of Bike, Walk and Wheel Week.
On the mid-morning 106 Brown Downtown route, one regular rider didn't notice an increase in passengers.
“It’s the same amount of people as usual,” Lisa Benner said. Benner said she is a regular bus rider and was on two routes Thursday — the 106 Brown Downtown and the 105 Purple South Commuter near the Walmart on Nifong.
Despite the dip in the midday bus crowd, Jill Stedem, public information specialist, said buses were full Thursday morning — both the fixed and paratransit routes.
"There were a lot of people taking advantage of Try Transit Thursday," Stedem said.
While the freebie was a bonus for regular riders, one of the main goals of Try Transit Day was to attract new passengers.
“It would be a good day for new people who don’t know anything about transit to get out and actually ride the rounds because they’re not out any money,” William Chilton, a bus driver since 2004, said. “Then they know where everything goes, what they cover exactly and general times.”
There are over two million riders this fiscal year, Stedem said, and the numbers for this year should be higher than last year. In March, Stedem said there was a 10 percent increase in passengers alone. The number of riders is measured on a weekly basis.
Chilton said he thinks one way the city could attract more people to Try Transit Day would be through different advertising.
Jeannette Kearney, rode the bus this morning but was unaware that it was free. Kearney has a car but also uses the bus depending on traffic or weather.
Don Burkett rides the bus four times a week and said he heard on TV that his ride would be free. Burkett said he sees Try Transit Day as a benefit for those people who already ride the bus regularly.
“In one way they are rewarding the loyal customers that ride everyday, but I think by advertising it more we can get more people in on it,” Chilton said.
Public Works doesn't have a budget to advertise for Try Transit Day, but Stedem said the department used Twitter, news releases, Facebook and fliers on buses to get the word out. It is also promoted as part of the Bike, Walk and Wheel Week activities.
Try Transit Day lasts until the buses stop running Thursday and is part of the 10th annual Bike, Walk and Wheel Week. Stedem said the exact number of riders should be counted by Monday or Tuesday.