As gas prices climb, consumers are forced to make choices. In some cases, drivers are cutting back on trips, which means driving less and filling up less. That's one way to save. Others are turning to public transportation as the answer.
A case in point is Mason City Transit which is following national trends and enjoying an increase in business. Like bigger cities, Mason City ridership is up as more people are parking the car and riding with their neighbors.
Ron Smith is one of thousands who get on a Mason City transit bus every day.
Ron Smith, Rider, "It helps an awful lot. Because it costs 50 cents a ride here, and if you've got to get across town it might cost you more and people don't have that."
In recent weeks he’s been joined by more and more riders, 7.5% more over the same time a year ago. In fact mass transit ridership is up by a similar amount in almost every city in Iowa. .
Pat Otto: Mason City Transit Manager: "I think I was hoping for or expecting some sort of an increase. not only because of fuel prices, but because of the increase of food prices. For some of our ridership, something has to give."
Pat Otto is transit director for the city of Mason City. Each new rider that travels from the downtown to other points across the city, is helping the city and its standing with the federal government. The feds already provide 68% of funding. Rewards for efficiency in areas of lower operating costs are built into the federal formula. More riders mean less demand of local tax dollars. A full bus also means a better public relations image.
Pat Otto: "Having more riders is making us more efficient. We're able to take more people, using the same amount of gas, same amount of miles, which our subsidy ridership is based on, ridership mileage and operation costs, that has been good for us to have fuller buses, it looks good to taxpayers when you have full buses going by rather than half-full or just one or two people on the bus."
Ridership has been steady during the 20 years of the Mason City transit system. Increasing ridership helps the Region 2 Transit System, a system that covers 8 north Iowa counties with stops in cities of Algona to Charles City. The two share a maintenance and dispatch center. The two save money on these costs.
There are 6% more riders for Region 2 without any aggressive marketing to boost interest. The advertising for them is at the pump and for all those drivers already on the road.
The reality is in this call center. More people are looking for rides. Fewer drivers are getting behind the wheel themselves and now are getting on the bus.
Kevin Kramer/Transit Administrator, Region 2: "They're seeing a big increase in calls. It’s probably been in the last month or two that we're seeing increases faster than we can really collect the statistics on it. We know its there, we know we're busier."