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Busing around town: CATA ridership up 15 percent

Usage of the Central Arkansas public transportation system is up substantially when compared to 2011.

According to Betty Wineland, director of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, ridership was up 14.7 percent during the first five months of 2012 from the same period a year earlier.

“Ridership has steadily increased during the last five years,” Wineland said. “But, we were somewhat surprised that the percentage was as high as it was.”

A 14.7 percent increase translates into 148,000 individual bus trips from January to May this year compared to last, Wineland said.

In addition to the Little Rock side of the river, CATA also provides public transportation to communities like North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville and Maumelle.

Although the recent numbers do reflect overall ridership, CATA does not keep statistics about usage in individual cities.

“Usage is up throughout the system,” Wineland said.

She said many patrons use the system going from the North Little Rock side of the river to Little Rock and vice versa.

CATA officials have come up with different reasons about why ridership spiking.

“There is always the economy,” Wineland said. “Public transportation is utilized more with some people when people are struggling.”

Another factor is likely to be higher gas prices, although fuel costs have gone done more recently.

“When gas prices start going down, we will ordinarily lose a few riders,” Wineland said. “But if the service is good for those riders, many will stay with us.”

Wineland said CATA is also noticing a trend among younger adults and some of the elderly who see riding public transportation as a way of going green.

“They are much more interested in the environment,” Wineland said. “People worrying about leaving a carbon footprint is more of an issue than in the past. That is encouraging.”

Wineland said 85 percent of CATA’s ridership is made up of people commuting to and from work.

The Jacksonville-Sherwood Express route has picked up business in recent years. CATA during that same time merged some routes in that area and now there are three bus trips in both the morning and afternoon compared to a few years ago when there was just one during morning and afternoon hours.

CATA provides two bus trips in the morning and three in the afternoon in its Pinnacle Mountain Expressway, which travel through Maumelle as well as Arkansas Highway 10 and Roland. The system in its third trip runs a few people at about 6 p.m. just to make sure people get a ride if they missed the first two bus runs, she said.

The North Little Rock/McCain Mall trip is one of the system’s more heavily used routes.

“Pulaski Tech (bus route) is near the top of our list,” she said.

Public transportation usage across much of the country is increasing. The national trend of increased usage mainly is being attributed to higher gas prices, she said.

“While many system are seeing more usage, many of them showed a range of a few percentage (points) higher,” she said. “Our system’s increase was a lot higher than in other parts of the country.”

When city buses are fuller, it helps the revenue stream. Some CATA routes are seeing a decrease in usage, such as in the Little Rock Airport area which does not have as many homes as in the past. Some homes there have been razed.

Wineland said CATA currently is analyzing its current routes to see if changes can make for more productive rides in which more areas are covered. With that in mind, CATA is studying its current route in the Pulaski Tech/McMain Mall/Levy area, she said.

Making some changes to cover more areas also would require bus driving some additional miles.

People now can access CATA’s bus routes via Google maps on the Internet, which people can use to plan for more efficient bus rides, she said. By using the Internet service, people can tell the amount of walking or bike riding they will be doing between bus stops until they reach their final destinations.

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