Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

July 31, 2012

Ridership record

More taking advantage of bus system

— — Faced with continued high gas prices and a troubled economy, a growing number of passengers across the region are choosing to take advantage of the Bluefield Area Transit.

In fact, the transit system crossed the 200,000-rider mark for the fiscal year 2011-2012 for the first time in the BAT’S 20-year history.

Patrick McKinney, director of the BAT, said the system had a total of 210,811 transports during the fiscal year-ending June 30. That’s up from 176,563 riders for fiscal year 2010-2011, and surpasses the previous record of 196,201 riders set during fiscal year 2009-2010.

McKinney believes the continued high cost of gasoline has contributed to the increase in ridership. We agree. While the cost of fuel dropped briefly earlier this summer, it is once again on the rise. And that’s bad news not only for the stalled national economy, but also local families who are still struggling to make ends meet during these tough economic times.

That’s why a growing number of residents are discovering the affordable benefits of public transportation.

“Our fuel costs for the 2012 fiscal year were up about $12,000 over budget, but we actually had a $14,000 increase in fares, so that offset the additional expense,” McKinney said. “We get calls every day from people who are unfamiliar with the system who want information about schedules and routes.”

The greatest increase in ridership has been reported along the U.S. Route 52 route in McDowell County. People are using the transit system to go shopping, visit the doctor and attend social functions. For many, the transit system is simply a way to get out of the house and visit others.

Sixty-five percent of the riders who currently utilize the system are elderly, and the BAT system has the largest percentage of  wheelchair-bound and handicapped riders than any other public transit system in the state. But younger riders are beginning to take advantage of the BAT system, McKinney said. That’s another positive indicator of continued growth for the transit system.

The city of Bluefield took over operation of the former county-operated Gateway Regional bus system in 1992. It was renamed the Bluefield Area Transit, or BAT for short, in 1998 when it expanded its routes to include Princeton and Athens in the system.

It is anticipated that ridership on the BAT system will continue to grow as gas prices once again begin their upward climb. We are lucky to have the BAT system in our region.

It’s a first-class transit system, and a true asset to those citizens who are lacking reliable transportation, as well as for those who are struggling with high gas prices. We are glad to see that the BAT system is being well utilized with record ridership levels now being reported.

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