Hop off the bus, Gus!

That's one solution Phoenix transit officials are proposing as they anticipate standing-room-only crowds on smaller buses that hit key routes next week."I can't tell you how much it hurts to tell people, `You might have to drive,' " said Neal Manske, interim director of Phoenix Public Transit.

The authorities also suggest that bus riders avoid rush-hour travel, or that they use carpools or vanpools to help alleviate the crowded conditions expected on nine central-city routes during peak periods beginning Monday.

"We're concerned about leaving people standing - and not on the bus, but at the curb," Manske said.

It's already happened: A crowd of Camelback High School students was left standing curbside recently when a jam-packed bus on Route 10 didn't have enough room.

The new buses have 36 seats. They replace older ones that carried 47 passengers or, in the case of double-long buses, 67 passengers. So far, Phoenix has been unable to afford to buy enough of the new buses to make up for the lost seating capacity.

On Monday, the new, smaller buses roll out on nine of the city's most popular routes, including the Red, Blue and Green lines, which crisscross the Valley. Most of the six other routes serve central Phoenix.

The passengers on Express Route 512 already know the consequences of living with the smaller buses. For the past month, they've been packed like sardines during their early-morning commute from Fountain Hills and Scottsdale into downtown Phoenix.

After a few weeks of sitting on the floor or the steps inside the bus, Ursula Sulista plunked down $10 for a camp stool and brought it on board.

"At least I'm assured of a seat," she said Wednesday.

Sulista said she suffers from a bad back, so standing for the 40-minute commute to her downtown legal job wasn't an option.