Transit passengers were hopping on and off buses at Sorensen Station on Sunday during World Free Transit Day.

Transit passengers were hopping on and off buses at Sorensen Station on Sunday during World Free Transit Day.

Free rides surprise transit riders

Free transit rides on World Free Car Day took many riders by surprise on Sunday.

Free transit rides on World Free Car Day took many riders by surprise on Sunday.

“I take the bus all the time and I didn’t even know,” said Lisa Deyoung who was waiting at Sorensen Station to take the bus to work at Red Deer College on Sunday morning.

Many people found out rides were free for the day when they got on the bus. A sign was posted on the fare box.

More advertising is probably necessary to let the public know, she said.

Deyoung said she uses transit almost every day. It’s convenient and buses run often.

“It gets me where I need to go,” Deyoung said.

Naomi Henry was aware bus rides were free on Sunday because her Facebook page connects to the city’s website.

“Even though I have a bus pass, I’m actually glad they’re trying this out,” said Henry who hoped the campaign encourages more people to give buses a try.

Henry said she’s been using the transit system for years and it’s a good way to get around.

But maybe Red Deer should have offered free transit on Saturday, which is what Edmonton did, she said.

Will Coakley, said he uses Red Deer Transit every day — for everything.

“Taking the bus is a lot easier. There’s no worries. You can just relax,” Coakley said.

One of his few complaints was that buses should start be on the road earlier in the morning.

Gerry Gummo, transit planner with the city, said last year city transit buses had 1,200 additional passengers, or 23 per cent more, when World Car Free Day fell on Saturday. When it fell on a weekday in 2011, there were 1,300 more passengers or 11 per cent more.

“We’ve got a lot of people in Red Deer who don’t normally ride the bus. By having them on the bus finding out something about how we really cover all the city with transit service, and that it’s reliable, it just exposes people to what a good thing riding transit is,” Gummo said.

The opportunity to ride a city bus for free on Sunday could definitely lead to more transit users in the future, he said.

Lauren Maris, city environmental program specialist, said according to local gas stations, per capita fuel use in the city has dropped in recent years.

“It’s a small decrease, but it is decreasing,” Maris said.

For the past three years, World Car Free Day has been the day the city highlights transportation options for residents.

She said the city wants to hear how people reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution on Sunday by filling out an online survey at www.reddeer.ca.

Those who complete the survey will have a chance to win prizes including an October transit pass, a $50 MasterCard gift card, and gift cards for Red Deer recreation, parks and culture facilities.

In addition to promoting free transit use for the day, walking, cycling and carpooling was also encouraged.

As it was Sunday, carpooling was probably not a top choice since people in Red Deer carpool most often to get to work.

“Even if you get one car off the road because you’re sharing is better than nothing. That’s what we’re hoping for,” said Jonathan Sealey, city traffic analysis technologist.

The city has partnered with carpool.ca, a free service to match drivers and passengers based on their commuting and occasional driving needs.

Last year, 130 people in Red Deer area were signed up with carpool.ca. As of July, the number grew to 213.

Nova Chemicals in Joffre has the most employees signed up with the program. Other employers with participants include Red Deer city hall and the civic yard, Red Deer College, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, AMA Red Deer and Canadian University College in Lacombe.

Sealey said the carpool program will be evaluated after October, which is Carpool Month, to see if improvements should be made to encourage more people to get involved.

“It’s always a tough sell especially in areas where there’s not too much congestion.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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