Mike Terry, Deseret News
Travelers move between trains on Friday in Salt Lake City. UTA said that from April '07 to April '08 ridership for the average weekday was up about 9 percent, divided among buses, light rail and van pools.

As gasoline prices pinch at people's pocketbooks, the Utah Transit Authority and other public transportation systems across the nation have seen increases in the number of passengers using their services.

UTA said that from April 2007 to April 2008 ridership for the average weekday was up about 9 percent, divided among its busing, light rail and van-pool transportation options.

Van pools, a service that allows private persons the option of leasing a large commuter van from UTA for carpooling purposes, saw the largest percentage increase in usage. From April to April, van-pool use rose 4 percent.

Both UTA and the American Public Transportation Association have been attributing the increased ridership to soaring fuel prices.

APTA recently reported that Americans have made 2.6 billion trips on public transportation in the first three months of 2008, an increase of almost 85 million compared to last year for the same time frame.

While light-rail systems such as TRAX had the highest percentage increase of ridership nationally, at 10.3 percent for the first quarter of this year, TRAX ridership has remained steady without any significant increases or decreases.

"We've expected to see increases in ridership with the price of fuel on the rise," said Jerry Bensen, chief operating officer for UTA. "And we've started to see it."

Nationally, the average price of gasoline is about $3.98 per gallon, according to AAA reports, and has been on steady increase since November. In Utah, AAA reports that the average price per gallon of gasoline is $3.96, the highest recorded cost per gallon in the state's history.

To save a couple of dollars Friday, Nicky Richards, Riverton, rode TRAX for the first time in more than a year to get to The Gateway with some friends to see a movie.

"We decided to ride TRAX today because of gas prices," Richards said. "It's convenient, too. I mean it's taking us where we need to go."

Richards described her past use of TRAX as purely recreational. And because her home is so close to where she works, Richards is still planning on using her car for commuting purposes.

How people use public transportation depends on their daily needs and obligations, said Paul Sorensen, who lives in Utah County.

"If you are always having to be on the move, then public transit isn't very practical," Sorensen said. "But If you have a routine schedule and don't have too many transfers, it's great."

Sorensen said he has been riding public transit for more than 30 years. He estimates saving hundreds of dollars a month.

Beyond saving though, Sorensen said he enjoys the free time that riding the bus puts back in his day: "It's nice having someone else drive through the traffic. I can relax while they drive."

Riding TRAX on a daily basis for over a year has cut commuting costs significantly for Marlene Wilson, a resident of Davis County. Like Sorensen, she enjoys the free time public transit presents.

"I like the relaxation that comes without having to drive, and I'm saving money," Wilson said. "Without TRAX I'd be driving a truck 40 miles both ways every day. That just adds up too fast."

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