Gas prices pump up shuttle ridership

Ballooning gas prices and a recovering economy have helped ignite a shuttle bus rebound with ridership increases reaching double digits in recent months, according to officials.

Credit for the current shuttle success goes in part to several campaigns launched by transit groups over the last year to convince more people to get out of their cars, but by far the biggest factor appears to be the higher cost of gasoline, according to officials.

“With higher gas prices, more people are taking public transit at least a few days a week,” said Christine Maley-Grubl, executive director of the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, which manages 17 shuttles in the county.

Average ridership per month on Alliance shuttles is up 4,200 to 34,000 from a year ago, Maley-Grubl said. Her group is working with the county’s train and bus operators, Caltrain and Samtrans, which oversee the majority of the county’s shuttles, to increase ridership through the “Try Transit Once a Week” campaign running from Oct. 23 to Nov. 17.

Riders who sign up receive free transit passes for four weeks, and compete for gift certificates and an iPod based on who rides the most often or who travels the most miles, Maley-Grubl said.

Since 2004 Samtrans and Caltrain have added eight new routes for a total of 42, said Caltrain and Samtrans Jonah Weinberg. The routes — paid for with a combination of state, transit agency and employer funds — are generally run between Caltrain or BART stations to area employers with the goal of reducing commuters. As of August, average weekday ridership on Caltrain shuttles was up 17.6 percent year-to-date. Average BART shuttle ridership shot up 46.8 percent year-to-date.

Two examples of shuttles that have already shown great success are those run to Genentech and Google, Weinberg said.

“They do an interesting combination of encouraging transit use and limiting parking availability,” he noted.

Increased shuttle use is also evident at the Bay Area Air Quality District, which funds shuttle projects, according to district spokeswomen Karen Schkolnik. Since 2000, her agency has increased shuttle funding by more than $200,000

The increased used of shuttles contributes to the long-term goals of the county’s bus operator Samtrans, which is in the process of remaking its service, Weinberg said. The focus of the makeover is on express bus lines running down main arteries with feeder buses, including shuttles, serving the less populated areas.

“We would like to see more shuttles, but limited funding prevents us from saying there definitely will be more for now,” Weinberg said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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