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More riders strain Triangle bus system

Riders say higher gas pricers have got them out of the car and into buses. Transit officials say higher ridership has led to crowded buses and more frequent break-downs.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Soaring gas prices have more commuters hopping on buses, but the increased ridership has strained the regional public-transit system.

The Triangle Transit Authority has seen a 14.5 percent increase in bus riders since May 2007, and riders have complained of crowding and more frequent break-downs.

"You have people standing on the buses, crammed in like sardines," said Tom Jensen, who has commuted by bus from Chapel Hill to Raleigh for nearly two years. "It is 100 degrees, and the air conditioning isn't working."

A day pass for TTA routes costs about $4 – close to the average price of a gallon of gasoline in late June. Jensen said he saves about $1,500 a year in gas money by riding the bus.

David King, TTA's general manager, agreed with Jensen's assessment of the hardships riders have experienced with the increased numbers.

"That is not the way we want to treat them," King said.

Kind said ridership has been up by as much as 20 percent some months, and TTA has struggled to keep up with the unexpected wave of riders.

"That puts stresses on your equipment and your entire organization that we did not anticipate," King said.

TTA recently received 23 new buses to bring its fleet to a total of nearly 70 and placed an order for another dozen buses from a manufacturer in California. Those buses will arrive in about a year.

However, King said those increase might not be enough, and he has considered contracting private companies to help move everyone around.

"It's the first time capacity issues have forced us there," King said.

A proposed plan from the Special Transit Advisory Commission recommended a half-cent sales tax increase to overhaul regional public transit, including enhanced bus service among the major cities.

However it's made possible, Jensen had one recommendation for transportation planners:

"Make public transit in the Triangle a much more viable option for a lot more people."