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Bus ridership up 23 percent in Fargo-Moorhead

FARGO - Whether it's because they're trying to save a dime or trying to save the Earth, nearly 1.7 million Fargo-Moorhead residents hopped on a bus in 2008.

The year-end Metro Area Transit figures released show 1,691,241 people took the bus, that's 317,000 more than in 2007.

Transit officials peg the 23 percent increase in ridership largely to riders trying to cut expenses during a time of high gas prices.

More college students are riding MAT buses, and MeritCare, one of the largest employers in the region, also paid for its employees to take the bus, MAT said in a news release.

The big increase in ridership came despite a substantial drop in fuel prices in November and December 2008 that had them dip well below $2 a gallon.

"I'm pleased to see that it's been up significantly this year," Fargo City Planner Jim Gilmour said.

"Even though gas prices dipped significantly in November and December our ridership continued to grow," he said.

Gilmour said changes were made in routes to get more people to and from Fargo's 13th Avenue South commercial corridor.

On one route, No. 15 from Fargo's downtown to Wal-Mart, ridership jump 60 percent in 2008 over 2007, he said. Other routes showed 15 to 24 percent increases in ridership, Gilmour said.

Ridership in Moorhead increased about 12 percent, Gilmour said.

There was a great increase in ridership among college students around the North Dakota State University campus and to and from the downtown NDSU campus, he said.

Gilmour anticipates that student ridership will make another big jump this fall "when the College of Business opens downtown, so we're getting ready for that."

Moorhead Transit Manager Lori Van Beek said that financial savings are the big reason for people trying the bus and sticking with it, however, some people have used the bus to do their part to cut down on carbon emissions.

"When we had Earth Week last year, ridership was quite high that week," she said, as riders got to ride for the price of turning in an empty aluminum can.

"I do think it's a benefit that people see," for the environment, Van Beek said. "It's just hard to gauge it."