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Dump the Pump:Red Rabbit offers free hops to encourage new riders

POSTED: June 19, 2009 12:17 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

A rider boards a Hall Area Transit Red Rabbit bus Wednesday afternoon at the Main Street Station. A Dump the Pump promotion offered free rides all day.

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Penny Ledbetter waits for the Red Rabbit blue line to take her to Lanier Diner for work each day.

She taps her foot because it’s late and she has to start her shift at 5 p.m.

As she says, taking the bus is cheaper than a taxi. And on Thursday it was free.

For national Dump the Pump day, Hall Area Transit offered free rides all day to encourage ridership.

"We gave out 9,000 coupons around the city — churches, civic groups, homeless shelters — so people could take a ride for free, starting tomorrow until Aug. 31," said Johnny Wilson, operations manager.

Each bus driver promoted the transit system by allowing riders to enter a drawing for $20 worth of bus tickets.

"Today people could get familiar with the routes and see where we go," said Litishia Lawrence, a bus driver for the gold route. "A lot of people have been getting on and riding around."

The national event is sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association and is in its fourth year. It initially started due to consumers’ anger about high gas prices, said Mantill Williams, director of advocacy communications for the association.

"We’ve always had some type of annual day to try transit, even back to the 1980s, but now we base it on saving money because high gas prices tend to pop up in the summer," he said. "People are also more concerned about the environment now."

Phillip Smith, a Gainesville resident who rode the gold route on Thursday, said the transit service helps him get from place to place.

"It’s convenient, especially when I have to go back and forth to the doctor," he said. "And when I have to go far, like the Social Security office, this is the way I travel."

Wilson said the transit system carried about 675 riders Thursday, a bit more than last year’s 620 riders.

"I think the stormy weather got in the way a little, but I really hope people got out and used the coupons," he said.

For some Gainesville residents, taking public transit isn’t practical.

"It’s not something I’d really take advantage of," Craig Brown, a general technician at Gibson’s Mobile Home Sales, said as he filled his gas tank at the Chevron on E.E. Butler Parkway. "I live here, work over there and could walk faster than the bus would take me."

Commuters also were unable to take advantage of the free bus day.

"I live in Dawsonville, but if I did live here, it might be practical," said Tammy Taum, who works at the Lanier Park Wound Healing Center, as she filled up at the BP on Downey Boulevard.

This year’s participation may have stayed the same due to low gas prices.

"Prices aren’t great, but it’s a lot better than last year" when some pump prices soared above $4, Liz Peck, an employee of Suntrust, said as she filled her tank at Chevron.

But for Ledbetter, the bus price is just right.

"I pay $1 one way at the beginning of the day and $1 at the end," she said. "And now with a few coupons, I can ride for free. A friend of mine gave me two of hers."



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