By Angela Smith
For Hometown News
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - The assumption that Florida residents are addicted to their automobiles isn't quite accurate for Indian River County residents after its public transit system recently celebrated its 1 millionth rider in less than a year.
GoLine, the county's free public bus system broke a ridership record in June, with more than 1 million one-way riders since last July, easily breaking the notion that people along the Treasure Coast don't solely rely on their own vehicles, but depend on public transit too.
"It's definitely growing," said Karen Deigl, CEO and president of Senior Resource Association, the company that operates and manages the bus system.
"Since 2007 we have increased our ridership by over 250 percent and I think it's going to continue to increase," she said. "Possibly not as fast as the pace it has in the past, but it will continue."
The explanation for the boom in ridership, Ms. Deigl believes, is the savings it creates for riders' pocketbooks and to the environment.
"One of the main reasons is the economy and the combination of gas prices and the cost of maintaining cars," Ms. Deigl said. "Riding the bus becomes economical and beneficial to the environment; so it's a win-win."
Sebastian resident and GoLine's ceremonial 1 millionth rider, Christine Lantz, opted to ride the bus after retiring her car to the garage two years ago. She was hoping to cut costs as she, like many seniors, lives on a fixed income.
"Christine is saving herself approximately $10,000 a year by using GoLine," Ms. Diegl said.
"More and more people are looking for alternatives, like her, and we are happy to say we are one of them."
However, even with GoLine's ridership record, using the bus sometimes comes as a shock to those who ordinarily drive through the 15 routes within the county.
"People react with surprise and can't believe it and they often say, 'Oh gee, I never thought of that and that it would be a good idea to do,'" Ms. Lantz said. "So I try to encourage as many people as I can to ride and to utilize a wonderful asset to our community."
With reports that Americans took 10.4 billion public transportation trips in 2011 - the second-highest total since 1957 according to The American Public Transportation Association - Ms. Diegl hopes GoLine's recent milestone and updates can spur more riders locally, possibly expanding their routes and hours in the future.
She notes marketing strategies as a key to their success.
"We did a rebranding of the system to make people aware that there is a transit system; from wrapping the buses in a tropical theme, to easy to read maps and longer hours," she said.
"In the future we'll also continue to look at the routes and make sure that we're providing the best service for the community and hopefully more people will ride."