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Gas prices may be boon for public transportation

April 26, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.VA. - More Eastern Panhandle residents are turning to mass transit to get around, and officials with those systems believe higher gas prices might be part of the reason people are turning to alternative transportation.

PanTran, a bus service which serves Berkeley and Jefferson counties, and the MARC commuter train service are seeing increases in ridership, officials with the two services said.

The number of riders using PanTran increased by 700 between February and March and there have been 444 additional riders for the first two months of April, said PanTran Director Lynn Weiger.

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Although MARC officials have not measured the increases they are seeing in ridership, conductors are noticing increasing numbers of riders at all stops, said MARC spokeswoman Cheron Wicker.

MARC trains stop at stations in Duffields, W.Va., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., in Jefferson County and in Martinsburg, W.Va., in Berkeley County.

Weiger said the ridership increases at PanTran are interesting because ridership on the buses typically decreases when the weather warms up.

In winter, people may be more apt to let someone else do the driving, but when temperatures rise, increasing numbers of people usually like to drive their own cars, Weiger said.

Rising gas prices are forcing changes at the local bus service, but bus fares will not be increased, Weiger said.

To deal with the price increases, PanTran had to increase its fuel budget by $10,000 for the coming fiscal year, Weiger said.

The bus service also is considering using biodiesel fuel in its fleet to help control fuel costs, Weiger said. If the bus service switches to biodiesel, it will have to install a special tank at its headquarters along U.S. 11 in Pikeside for the fuel, Weiger said.

Some local residents say they are using mass transit more in light of rising gas prices - which have been up to $2.25 for regular and up to $2.45 for high grade - and they would like for mass transit systems to expand their services.

George Carter of Martinsburg was reviewing the schedule Monday for the MARC commuter train at the Caperton Train Station in Martinsburg.

After watching gas prices steadily rise, Carter said he is ready to start using the train instead of driving to his job near Gaithersburg, Md.

Carter said a disadvantage of using MARC is that the train he would have to take to his job would put him at his destination two hours before he needs to arrive. Carter said he would like to see MARC expand its departure times so he would not have to leave home so early.

Carter said he has already been using PanTran for his local transportation needs so he can escape high gas prices.

Carter described gas prices as "outrageous. People would probably be happy to see it $1.75 again," Carter said.

Dante Kimble said he wanted to buy a car to get around town but the price of cars coupled with gas prices has him thinking twice about the investment. So on Monday, Kimble was leaving the driving up to PanTran.

"It's discouraging," Kimble said as he waited for a bus at Caperton Train Station.

Rashawn Williams uses PanTran for her local transportation, but she said there are not enough bus routes. That makes the service less convenient, Williams said.

Williams, of Martinsburg, said she is used to public transportation like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington, D.C. The city's subway and bus system offers numerous routes, which means riders do not have to wait around for buses.

"I think we're big enough in this area to have something like that," Williams said outside the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library. "The city is growing."

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