MAHONING VALLEY WRTA reports more use, change in population served



By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- More riders take the bus today than have taken it in years, and many of the new riders are young and middle-aged adults, not the elderly or disabled who once filled many seats, according to the head of the agency that operates the buses.
Welfare-to-work programs, which force some unemployed able-bodied adults to find jobs, and bus routes and schedules that provide these workers with access to their workplaces account for much of the increase in ridership, said Jim Ferraro, executive director of the Western Reserve Transit Authority.
Last year, WRTA carried about 1.37 million passengers, up from 1.34 million the year before. That was the smallest year-to-year percentage increase in recent history, Ferraro added.
In 2000, about 1.15 million passengers took a WRTA bus, up from nearly 1.1 million the year before. In 2001, ridership jumped to 1.24 million and then to 1.34 million in 2002.
This year, Ferraro said, ridership is expected to approach 6,000 passengers per day.
Expanded service
WRTA introduced night service in 2001 to accommodate workers whose shifts begin in the afternoon or evening, and ridership increased significantly, Ferraro said.
Before that, buses ran until about 6:30 p.m., which would allow day-shift workers to get to and from work but left afternoon-shift workers without transportation home and midnight-shift workers without transportation to work.
Now, buses that serve the busy commercial corridors where many of these workers are employed operate from 6:10 a.m. until about midnight daily. They also run from 7:10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays and some holidays.
WRTA operates 26 fixed routes within Youngstown, and in parts of Boardman, Austintown, Liberty, Girard, Niles, Campbell and Warren. The transit system serves all Youngstown city high schools, Youngstown State University, the Kent State University Trumbull Campus, area hospitals, and shopping and employment centers.
Who uses buses
Although most Americans aspire to own a car, Ferraro said, "We have a lot of transit-dependent riders." Senior citizens and the disabled used to be the largest group of transit-dependent riders, he said. But now, many seniors live in assisted-living communities that provide transportation.
More students are also taking the bus, Ferraro said, and some of them continue to ride even after they graduate.
Students who have ridden the bus to and from school are usually more comfortable taking the bus after they graduate than adults who are unfamiliar with the service, Ferraro added.
One-way fares are as low as $1 for adults and 75 cents for students; still, it is very difficult to get people out of their cars, Ferraro said.
Taking the bus often means walking a block or two to the stop, which is a deterrent for some people, he said. Some adults unfamiliar with the transit system are also hesitant to hop aboard because they aren't sure exactly where the bus will take them.
kubik@vindy.com

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