Bus rides free - and crowded

TRANSIT OFFICE LURES PASSENGERS

Passengers aboard Augusta's Turpin Hill bus peered out windows as they approached a stop along Martin Luther King Boulevard. About a dozen people were waiting to get on.

 

"Where are they all going to fit?" one back-seat passenger said.

Inside, it was already standing room only. Several of the newcomers smiled apologetically as they shoe-horned themselves into the space still left.

Augusta Public Transit let passengers ride for free Monday through Friday in a promotion it called Try Transit week. And try it Augusta residents did.

Bus driver Rebecca Brown said her morning east Augusta route was at least 50 percent busier than usual. Her Kmart route was packed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"Five people would get on, 10 would get off. Ten would get on, five would get off. Fifteen would get on, 10 would get off. It was constant," she said.

At the Augusta Public Transit Office, the numbers showed bus ridership more than doubled. A year ago, 1,624 people rode the Monday after Christmas. This year, Monday ridership was 3,293. By Tuesday it grew to 4,825. Wednesday it was 5,152.

Augusta residents James Johnson and Paul Williams normally ride the bus to work. They said they've seen big crowds this week. They're riding more, too.

"I'm on vacation, so I'd be sitting home, burning up lights," Williams said. "So, ride the bus, get out of the house."

Johnson, also on vacation, said he went to some new places.

"I've taken care of some personal business, paid a bill or two," he said. "I've gone to places like shopping centers to find things that I hadn't had time to go get because I work all the time."

Augusta resident Robert Curry found out Wednesday that rides were free. He rode the bus for the first time Thursday to the Department of Family and Children Services on Fenwick Street.

"I just never thought to ride the bus before. I mostly walk everywhere I need to go," he said. "It's a big hit, though, with it being cold out here."

He might not return as a customer next week, however.

"If it costs? I don't know. If I don't have the money, I would have to walk," he said.

Transit Office Director Heyward Johnson said the city has offered a day of free rides in the past, but never for an entire week.

Johnson said the idea was to give something back to the community after a year of rough economic times, and also to entice casual riders to try new routes.

"Hopefully, they'll get a better understanding of where the buses run ... and maybe use them more," he said.