No more free bus rides on bad air days
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The end of an air quality grant means no free bus rides in Salisbury on unhealthy ozone days like today.
The free bus ride program ran for five summers, funded by a Congestion and Mitigation Air Quality grant through the N.C. Department of Transportation. The grant provided 80 percent of the funding, and the city’s local match covered 20 percent.
The one-time-only grant, intended to keep more cars off the road on orange and red ozone action days, has expired.
The free bus rides were popular.
“Definitely, without a doubt,” Salisbury Transit Division Manager Rodney Harrison said. “Ridership definitely increased on the days when it was free, and we retained some of those riders.”
Some people who tried the bus when it was free discovered it was easy and convenient and kept using the service, even when they had to pay, Harrison said.
The city offered free bus rides on ozone action days from 2007 to 2011. The program began each year on May 1 and continued through Sept. 30, corresponding with the N.C. Division of Air Quality’s ozone season.
Throughout the program, people rode for free on 105 days. That’s 82,742 bus trips.
Some residents have called the city inquiring about free rides this summer and have been disappointed to learn the program ended, Harrison said.
“We will continue to look for other options in the future, possibly applying for different grants if we can find them,” he said. “We always keep our eyes open for additional and creative funding sources.”
Bus ridership in general continues to increase in Salisbury. Harrison said he projects a three percent bump this fiscal year, up from 220,000 trips in 2011 to 227,000 trips in 2012.
“That’s a real good increase for transit, especially a small transit system like ours,” he said.
Like most public bus systems across the country, Salisbury Transit is subsidized with state and federal money from taxpayers.
Despite the loss of free bus rides, Harrison said he does not expect a decrease in ridership anytime soon.
Regular bus fare is $1. Senior citizens and handicapped riders pay 50 cents.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
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