Butler 'trend' shows increase in public transportation use
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When John Paul of the Butler Transit Authority saw the numbers of riders increasing in big numbers late last year, he thought, "Wow, that was a good month."
When it happened again the next month, he thought it was a fluke.
Now that it has happened for six consecutive months, he's calling it a trend.
In fact, overall use of public transit in Butler County is skyrocketing, a fact that local experts link to dual factors of a battered economy and improvements in the transit systems.
The July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, fiscal year showed ridership growth at a typical 1 percent, said Mr. Paul, executive director of the transit authority.
So far this fiscal year, since July 1, 2011, through Nov. 30, the number of riders has grown by 12.8 percent.
In November, there were 20,858 riders compared to 18,380 riders in November 2010. And in the first five months of this fiscal year, there were 103,210 riders compared to 91,527 during the same period last fiscal year.
Ridership for July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, was 218,981 total. At the end of June 2010, the figure for the year was 216,612.
"I think the economic situation is making people more aware of the economic viability of public transportation,'' he said, adding that he believes service improvements have made his service more "customer friendly."
The Butler Transit Authority operates buses in Butler, Butler Township and Center.
Similarly, ridership is up in the Butler Area Rural Transit system, according to Janine Kennedy, Community Action director for Butler County, which oversees the program that circulates throughout the entire county and into northern Allegheny County specifically for medical appointments.
Ms. Kennedy said that from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, the number of trips had increased by 10,000 with the total number at 71,565, compared to 61,290 the previous year. So far this year, July 1, through Nov. 30, the number is 30,574.
"We're on track to bump up even beyond last (fiscal) year," Ms. Kennedy said.
Unlike the Butler Transit Authority, which operates a fixed route system for fixed fee, the BART program is a "shared ride" operation that is demand responsive, meaning that rides are scheduled in advanced and are shared with others on a bus or in a van.
Most riders of BART have trips subsidized through one program or another: senior citizens can take a bus or a van with 85 percent of the trip cost subsidized through the Pennsylvania Lottery; medical assistance will pay for transportation for low-income clients for certain purposes; disabled people can receive a fare subsidy in some instances, as well. Costs of a trip are determined based on the number of "zones" that are crossed. And while anyone can ride, up to 98 percent of riders receive a fare subsidy, Ms. Kennedy said.
She speculated that the increase in ridership boils down to availability of the service, the recognition that it is cost-effective, its conveniences and the effort of staff to match riders to potential subsidies.
Anyone interested in BART can obtain more information by calling 724-282-6060.
Mr. Paul said he won't be surprised to see ridership continue to rise in the BTA system.
"We've made adjustments to our routes to be in better compliance with the schedule so customers can feel even better about reliability,'' he said, noting that his goal is to keep the buses with 2 minutes of the schedule arrival times. In fact, the transit authority has added a website feature that allows riders to see the real-time location of buses on any route. Also, visual and audible signage have been added to the buses for those who are handicapped.
More information on the BTA system can be obtained at the terminal in Lyndora or at www.butlertransit.com or by calling 724-283-0445. It's a one-price system, costing $1 with free transfers and a $2 ride-all-day pass from 7:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. weekdays.
Limited service is offered on Saturday and Sunday. There are five routes with 23 stops per route. "More than 80 percent of the population of the city and the township are within three-quarters of a mile of a bus stop,'' he said.
Even if ridership continues to rise, he said he has no fear of being able to accommodate demand. "We've got plenty of capacity,'' he said.
First Published January 5, 2012 12:00 am