Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gas prices spark rise in MARC ridership

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If the numbers from public transit officials are any indication, the high gasoline prices have more people parking their cars and taking trains, subways and buses to work.

Back in April, MARC, Metro and Ride On reported their passenger numbers were growing with each rise in the price of gas.

At that time, John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic predicted: ‘‘You can expect $4 gas in the not-too-distant future and that’s going to drive more people to mass transit. It’s good in several ways: We’re addicted to this thing called gas. It’s our great American birthright to drive and have cheap gas. It’s really more about budget than being environmentally conscious. These high gas prices are radioactive like green kryptonite for motorists.”

Townsend’s prediction was correct with gas prices now averaging $4.09 per gallon and transit officials reporting even more passengers.

The May figures released last week show MARC’s average daily ridership was 32,604 for the month, up 4.3 percent over April’s average and up 6 percent over the May 2007 numbers.

While the release’s headline of ‘‘MARC popularity” may not have been the word commuters would have used considering the number of delays for the month, even getting home two or three hours late apparently was worth the price of avoiding costly fuel-ups.

MARC’s Penn Line from Perryville to Washington’s Union Station carried the most passengers, averaging 20,414 daily. The Penn Line is operated by Amtrak.

The Brunswick Line, which runs from Martinsburg, W.Va., to Union Station with several stops in Montgomery, carried an average of 7,724 passengers daily. That’s an 8.2 percent increase over the same month last year.

Metrorail recorded its third highest ridership day ever came last week: On July 2, 834,956 passengers took the subway. Metro officials credited visitors to the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival and the high fuel prices. (Only 598,898 used Metro for this year’s Fourth of July celebration in D.C.)

But that’s not an anomaly. Eight of the 10 busiest weekdays in the 32-year history of Metrorail are now from this year, and Metro officials say much of it has to do with the price of gas.

The records for high ridership are:

1. June 9, 2004: 850,636, President Ronald Reagan’s funeral

2. June 25, 2008: 846,388, Special event at the Smithsonian.

3. July 2: 834,956, Special event at the Smithsonian.

4. April 3, 2007: 831,508, cherry blossoms and baseball game.

5. June 24: 831,464, baseball and basketball games.

6. June 20: 829,998, baseball and basketball games.

7. April 24: 828,973, baseball and basketball games.

8. April 17: 828,418, Visit by Pope Benedict XVI and soccer game.

9. April 11: 828,132, Hockey match, baseball game and cherry blossoms.

10. June 27: 825,862, Special event at the Smithsonian and baseball game.

Ride On ridership also increased in May with weekday passengers up 2.8 percent over May 2007. The average weekday saw 97,226 passengers on the buses.

We really want to hear from you, honest

Due to a technical glitch, e-mails to bumper@gazette.net were lost, never to be seen again, according to our IT staff. Things were fixed last week.

So if you had a question, suggestion or other e-mail in the past two months, please resend it.

Which leads to a topic for discussion: Where are the worst places for getting lost in Montgomery County? Have you ever gotten lost due to poor signage or because of missing signs? Send your story to bumper@gazette.net, where assurances have been given that your e-mail will not get lost on its way to the inbox.

Give kids a boost

Don’t forget, the new state law began July 1 that requires children up to the age of 8 or under 65 pounds or 4 feet, 9 inches tall to be in a booster seat.

Maryland is the 20th state to pass the booster-seat law. Before, children had to be in booster seats until they were 6.

Booster seats are recommended for 4- to 8-year-olds who are generally too big for child safety seats and too small for seat belts to fit properly. Visit www.choosesafetyforlife.com for more info.

New columnist

I’ll be taking the wheel of the Bumper column on an interim basis. I’ve been a newspaper reporter since 1982, and some days it feels as if at least five of those years have been spent stuck in traffic.

Bumper to Bumper is a biweekly column on transportation issues, fueled largely by reader questions. Past columns may be found at www.gazette.net.