FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Fairbanks North Star Borough bus system's free ride program is boosting ridership.
Ridership through the first month and a half of the program is up about 55 percent over last year.
''It just keeps climbing and climbing,'' said Max Lyon, director of the borough transportation department.
Ridership increased 51 percent in November, the first full month of the program, and is up 64 percent for December.
Lyon said 20,000 people rode borough buses in November last year and 31,000 last month. He said more than 9,200 people rode the bus in December last year and 15,000 so far this month.
Lyon said weekend ridership is up sharply and Saturday service has shown the largest percentage of increase.
Residents normally pay $1.50 to ride one of seven buses on five routes.
''There's a lot of new people riding it and a lot of people continue to ride it, and that's the best kind of feedback we can get,'' he said.
In October, the borough assembly accepted a $175,000 federal grant for reducing carbon monoxide emissions. The money will be available for up to three years.
Free rides were implemented in Anchorage last winter and increased ridership 35 percent, Lyon said. When the program ended in March, the Anchorage bus system retained a 15 percent increase in ridership.
Vehicles produce 80 percent of the borough's carbon monoxide emissions and cause CO levels to exceed federal standards.
During the 1970s and early 1980s the area experienced hundreds of violations a year. The borough registered its only air quality alert of 2000 in early February.
''How much this is really doing for air quality is really questionable, but that's OK because more people are using the bus system,'' Assemblyman Dave Veazey said Thursday.
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