COLUMBIA — Ginger Masters rode the bus to and from the Columbia Farmers' Market on Saturday morning because her car is broken down.
Although she got back on the bus empty-handed after leaving the market, Masters has been a regular on the route since it began in April.
"The bus stop is right across the street from my house," she said.
Masters was one of about 10 people on the bus during its early morning loop. The bus, which is funded through a federal grant and runs to the farmers market each Saturday, has seen a slight increase in ridership since the route started.
In 2011, the farmers market was given a $41, 791 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to increase resident access to the farmers market, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website. The grant, which also supports advertising for the market, is good for two years.
A data spreadsheet from the Columbia Public Works Department reported the number of bus passengers has increased from a minimum of five riders to a maximum of 27 riders from April through mid-August. There were 44 riders recorded at the end of April and a record 74 riders at the end of June. Ridership saw a slight decrease in July.
Stephen Clark, the bus driver for the route, said he picks up an average of 20 to 25 passengers each Saturday between 7:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., but he said not everyone who gets on the bus is going to the farmers market.
The bus makes several stops throughout the city, including MU's campus.
“There’s not one specific place where I pick up riders," Clark said. "It’s just scattered along the route."
Clark said he remembers fliers being passed out to let neighborhoods know about the new route.
The fliers were handed out during an Earth Day event at Peace Park in April, Caroline Todd, farmers market director said.
Abby Schlutz, a farmers market manager, goes to bus stops along the route on Thursdays and Fridays to chalk the sidewalk, Todd said.
Clark said chalking is only effective if people already know about the market.
“I love it. I don’t know how well it’s working,” Clark said, about the color advertisements. “I just wish since school started, they had more advertising.”
Masters also said she thinks advertising could improve.
“I think I saw something in the paper online a month before it started," she said. "I don’t think the bus route was publicized well.”
Clark said he has noticed a recent increase in passengers since school has started.
MU seniors Allison Reinhart and Shannon Stecher have taken the bus to the market the last few Saturdays. Reinhart heard about it from another friend.
As they rode the bus Saturday, she and Stecher asked Masters whether the market still carried peaches.
For Masters, that's the primary reason she's been going to the market.
“I’ve been canning peaches this summer," she said. "Soap, produce, eggs. Whatever’s in season."
“Peaches are probably the hottest item on my bus," Clark said. "And blackberries.”
The bus route will continue to run until Oct. 27, 2012.
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