Metro Transit carrying

by Rob Kuznia

Metro Transit served its two billionth customer since its inception in 1971 on Friday. To pay tribute to its riders, the bus company offered free rides on Friday between 3 and 9 a.m.
“Because there were so many people hopping on and off the buses Friday morning, we weren’t able to pinpoint the two billionth person,” said Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metro Transit. “So they were all the two billionth person.”
The landmark came on the heels of a trend-breaking surge in business this year.
“The Legislature gave us additional funding this year,” Gibbons said. “It was up to us to increase service, and we did.”
In 1998, the Legislature earmarked $52.5 million for Metro Transit, which used the money to increase the salaries of its employees.
Last year Metro Transit had 66 million riders — the highest number in five years. More importantly, this year’s ridership increase of 6.4 percent is the highest increase in 21 years, Gibbons said.
Since the energy crisis in the late 1970s — when ridership was the highest — Metro Transit business went on a steady decline until 1995.
The University has been a contributing factor in the increase. In the last year, University ridership percentages jumped significantly.
This is partly because of the Como Metro Pass, an experiment that allows students to purchase an unlimited-use bus pass for $20 per quarter through the Como neighborhood.
“This year we have a 1,000-person maximum, and we were real close to turning people away this winter quarter,” said Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services. Next year the department will try to increase the maximum by 250, he said.
American studies major Rebecca Tabares said she hopes the experiment will prove the idea works.
“The parking situation here is insane, and it’s only going to get worse,” she said.
Next year the University will lose approximately 900 parking spaces during the construction of the Gateway center and other developments.
“They should offer the $20 pass to everyone,” Tabares said. “But I don’t think they will. They will probably say, ‘It’s a budget matter.’ But I would be willing to pay student service fees for this more than most other student service fees,” she said.