COLUMBIA — On Thursday, Columbia bus services will operate free for Try Transit Day.
The promotion is part of Bike, Walk & Wheel Week 2012. The event is meant to prioritize the expansion of the city's public transportation system and encourage regular use of city buses.
By offering free rides, event sponsors — including the PedNet Coalition, city departments and community businesses — hope riders realize the advantages of traveling by bus, including saving on fuel expenses, avoiding parking problems, clearing city traffic and reducing environmental toxins, according to a news release from the Public Works Department.
There will also be an attempt to break the transit system's single-day ridership record.
Michelle Windmoeller, assistant director of the PedNet Coalition, said the current single-day ridership record was set at last year's Try Transit Day when more than 2,900 people rode city buses.
This year's goal is to have 5,000 people use the transit system.
Windmoeller said the program has been promoted mostly by word of mouth and believes that strategy is working.
"I was walking through the Chamber of Commerce ... and someone stopped me to ask if they had selected the right bus route," she said.
City leaders are taking an active role in promoting the event as well.
According to Windmoeller, City Manager Mike Matthes, City Sustainability Director Barbara Buffaloe, former Mayor Darwin Hindman and his wife, Axie Hindman, PedNet staff and other volunteers will be riding buses as "transit ambassadors." Throughout the day they will distribute stickers and entry forms for prizes.
Prizes have been donated by businesses sponsoring Bike, Walk & Wheel Week and together are valued at more than $2,000.
Each time a rider uses the bus service, he or she can enter in the drawing for a prize. Windmoeller said there is no limit to the number of entries a rider can receive.
Prizes available are: eight $50 gift cards to Hy-Vee; 10 $50 gift cards for any shops in The District; $500 worth of tickets to shows at The Blue Note and Mojo's; 10 $50 gift cards to Walt's Bicycle, Fitness and Wilderness Co.; five one-week passes to Wilson's Fitness Center (valued at $70 each); and one $40 gift card to Curves.
Prize winners will be announced by KFRU's David Lile on a live radio broadcast from 6 to 9 a.m. Friday. Windmoeller said the winners will also be contacted.
Bus services will run from 6:25 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday.