Most of the new riders are people who work along the busy suburban corridors.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Beginning service to afternoon-turn workers resulted in double-digit growth of Western Reserve Transit Authority ridership over the past two months.
Although that rate of growth is likely to slow, the upward trend is expected to continue, a WRTA official said.
Ridership increased 16 percent in April 2001 over April 2000, and 12 percent in May 2001 over May 2000, reported James J. Ferraro, WRTA executive director.
"We're very pleased. We've had minimal growth over the last year, year and a half. Now, night service is starting to catch on. In May, we had 113,318 riders, up from 101,478 in May 2000."
Running later: WRTA buses used to run until about 6:30 p.m., Ferraro said. Now, they run until almost midnight. Night riders account for most of the growth, he said, and most of them are taking the bus to and from work. Many riders are employed along the busy commercial corridors -- US. Route 224 in Boardman, Mahoning Avenue in Austintown or U.S. Route 422 in Niles -- where they work in restaurants, hotels, telemarketing centers and shopping centers.
Some of the businesses, such as InfoCision, a telemarketing firm in Austintown, have called to request special stops or route changes to make riding the bus to and from work more convenient for its employees. WRTA has tried to accommodate them, Ferraro said, citing one route change that includes Interstate Boulevard in Austintown, where InfoCision is based.
On occasion, bus drivers also request permission to alter their routes to accommodate passengers who want to be dropped off closer to their homes. In most cases, that's OK, he said. The times a dispatcher may deny the request is when streets are too narrow or neighborhoods too tight to accommodate the buses.
Before WRTA operated buses into the night, workers could take the bus to their jobs, but had trouble finding a way back home, Ferraro noted.
Workers whose shifts started at midnight could take a morning bus home, but had to find an alternate means of transportation to get to work.
Economical: With buses operating into the night, workers whose shifts start in the morning, afternoon or evening can use WRTA to get both to and from work, he said. Many of those workers, he continued, are coming off welfare as a result of the welfare-to-work mandates that require able-bodied unemployed adults receiving assistance to enter the work force.
Those workers may be working only four hours a night earning little more than minimum wage, Ferraro said.
Taking a cab, even one way, could eat up most of their earnings. Riding the bus, which costs $1 for adults, 75 cents for students and 50 cents for seniors, is far more economical.
Monthly passes are a greater bargain for frequent riders at $32 for adults and $16 for senior citizens, he continued, "and we're looking into daily and weekly passes."
WRTA operates as many as 37 buses when demand for transportation peaks each day; those operations drop off dramatically in the evening, Ferraro said.
Six buses that cover combined routes leave the bus station every evening at 7:10 and 8:10 p.m.
That drops to five buses by 9:10 p.m. and four by the time the last buses leave the downtown station at 11 p.m.
If demand for transportation via WRTA continues at its current pace, June will see a 5 percent to 6 percent growth in ridership over last June, Ferraro noted.
New buses: By mid-November, WRTA will have 41 new buses on the street; 19 are already on the road and the rest are on order, Ferraro said. All but one of the buses that will be in use have wheelchair lifts and all are low-floor models that do not require passengers to climb more than one step.
WRTA employs more than 100 full- and part-time workers and operates with a $5.9 million annual budget.
Eighteen percent to 20 percent of the operating budget is funded by federal grants, 15 percent comes from the state and the remainder comes from local sources and the fare box.