Those who use public transportation in southwest Riverside County had a hand in helping Riverside Transit Agency reach a new record for ridership.
RTA had 8.8 million boardings in 2011-2012, the highest fiscal year total in its 35-year history, the agency announced Wednesday. This was fueled by high gas prices and an increased number of college students riding the bus, said Bradley Weaver, RTA spokesperson.
Route 61, which carries passengers to Mt. San Jacinto College's Menifee Valley campus, had a 33 percent increase in ridership, according to Weaver. The route starts near Grace Mellman Library in Temecula, stops near in Murrieta and then near before carrying passengers to MSJC and eventually Sun City.
The only local route that had a decrease was Route 23, which serves areas near Murrieta Town Square while en route from Grace Mellman Library in Temecula to Inland Valley Regional Medical Center in Wildomar. Its ridership was down 12 percent from the previous year, according to Weaver.
Systemwide, RTA’s ridership increased nearly nine percent and CommuterLink express routes grew 17 percent compared to the previous year, Weaver said.
Route 202, a CommuterLink that carries passengers from Murrieta and Temecula to Oceanside, saw a 15 percent increase, Weaver reported.
CommuterLink Route 208 takes riders from Temecula, Murrieta and Sun City to the Downtown Riverside Metrolink station. It saw a 21 percent increase, he said.
RTA Bus stops are also located at two Murrieta high schools—Vista Murrieta and Murrieta Valley—and in close proximity to many other schools in the city.
"The ridership boom is a strong indication that Riverside County’s public transit system continues to be a convenient, low-cost transportation solution for those continuing to struggle with a troubled economy," Weaver said.
Murrieta's current mayor, Doug McAllister, who serves as chairman of the RTA Board, expressed pride in the record-breaking year.
“We are proud to have created a bus system that is carrying more customers than ever before,” McAllister said. “People are yearning for alternative ways to get around and this record ridership certainly speaks to that demand.”
RTA continues to make improvements to its routes, boosting connectivity between routes, enhancing service to schools and Metrolink stations, and extending service to growing communities and popular destinations, Weaver said.
The boost in college students' riding is attributed to Go-Pass and U-Pass programs at area colleges—student ride programs that are paid for by the colleges themselves or with student fees, Weaver said.
MSJC is the newest addition; other campuses include Riverside City College, Moreno Valley College, California Baptist University, La Sierra University and University of California, Riverside, he said.
The regional surge in ridership reflects a national pattern, Weaver said. He referenced a report from American Public Transportation Association that showed public transit use has increased during the last five consecutive quarters.
RTA's service area spans 2,500 square miles of western Riverside County, making it the second largest in the nation.
Visit RiversideTransit.com for more information or call 951-565-5002.