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Dump the Pump: Free ride carrot lures Red Rabbit riders
Red Rabbit riders change buses while new passengers board at the Pine Street station Thursday afternoon. Patrons were getting a free ride as part of the third annual national Dump the Pump day.

The Red Rabbit saw a record number of riders Thursday for the third annual Dump the Pump day.

Hall Area Transit hauled 659 people, shattering the previous record high of 560 riders on May 2 of this year.

The national event, hosted by the American Public Transportation Association, urged people to become familiar with local public transportation in an effort to save fuel, money, time and the environment.

The Red Rabbit offered free rides all day on all bus routes to encourage more people to take public transportation.

"The phones were really nice and busy," said Hall Area Transit Director Janice Crow.

Crow said most people called to check that the rides were free and ask about bus times and routes.

"Location and bus stops means new people," Crow said.

According to the American Public Transportation Association transit ridership report, Hall Area Transit was one of the fastest growing transit systems in the nation. The number of people riding the Red Rabbit grew more than 47 percent during the first three months of 2008, compared to the same period last year.

"You can see in those numbers how it’s climbing," said Johnny Wilson, Hall Area Transit operations manager. "With fuel prices the way they are, ... every day we’re gaining riders."

He said the Red Rabbit has attracted more young people than expected. More kids have probably taken advantage of public transportation this summer with the end of the school year and a program that gives free rides to the library for students.

To encourage children to read over the summer, Hall County librarians will give kids a sticker to put on their library cards that will allow them and a guardian to ride the Red Rabbit to the library free until Aug. 31.

Dump the Pump was not only a day to attract new riders but to help existing riders.

Sylvia Perkins, a longtime Red Rabbit rider, said she was happy about the free ride.

"It helped my budget," she said. "It’d be nice if they did it maybe once extra for the month."