MTS Sees Ridership Increase During Gas Price Spike

Express buses from North County have seen the most visible increase in riders

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Eric S. Page
    Express buses like the one pictured here have become increasingly popular for commuters from the North County hoping to save gas money.

    San Diego is not known for its stellar use of public transportation.

    However, as gas prices reach about $4.40 per gallon, riding the bus, taking the train or hopping on the trolley has become a more viable option for commuters feeling the pinch.

    Bus ridership is up 7.1 percent -- 2.5 million more trips than in the same period last year, according to the Metropolitan Transit System.

    In February alone, ridership increased 7/5 percent over February of last year.

    “As gas prices increase, people consider alternatives when they’re getting hit in the wallet,” said Metropolitan Transit System spokesman Rob Schupp.

    The numbers have exceeded the former record in 2008, when gas prices reached an average of about $4.50 per gallon. That year, MTS had 91 million trips on buses, trains and trolleys, Schupp said.

    Numbers aside, public transportation users are noticing the difference. The MTS Express buses, which make limited stops from North County transit stops to Downtown, are becoming more and more crammed in the mornings. Often riders are forced to stand on the 30-minute bus ride, which is a safety hazard since the bus travels on the freeway.

    Every day for the past several months, MTS has added an Express bus to accommodate for the extra riders, Schupp said.

    Though Schupp does not necessarily consider the increasing gas prices a good thing, it has altered commuters’ mindsets and habits in a potentially positive way. They consider the alternatives to driving, and turn to public transportation.

    This may end up benefiting the bus system’s visibility and reach, Shupp said.

    MTS gets about a tenth of a cent per every dollar spent in San Diego. The funds are considerably limited, especially next to a comparably sprawled city such as Los Angeles—which receives a cent-and-a-half of every dollar spent in the city, Schupp said.

    For anyone considering taking public transportation, MTS’s website has a trip-planner and a specialist to help commuters figure out a route. That number is 619-233-3004.

    Schupp himself takes the Sprinter train from Carlsbad to and from work every day. The hour-long commute gives him the opportunity to read or relax before and after work. Though it’s not as convenient as riding a car, and certainly not possible for everyone, he likes it, and he thinks it’s catching on.

    “You just have to readjust your expectations.”

    What would it take to you get you to use public transportation on a daily basis? Let us know what you think. Comment below, send us your thoughts via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.