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RACINE – Recent record-high gasoline prices are resulting in double-digit ridership increases for Racine Transit (RYDE Racine).

Racine Transit Director Trevor Jung said Wednesday that the system saw 42,212 individual trips in May, a 14 percent increase compared with May 2021. In the first half of June, RYDE Racine had 19,616 individual trips, up 11 percent from the same period last year.

“It’s most definitely related to gasoline prices,” he said. “People have been reaching out to inquire about the system in general and about specific routes.”

On Monday, AAA reported that the nation’s average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline had reached $5.01 – an all-time high since the association started collecting pricing data in 2000.

The average gasoline price in Wisconsin was $4.91/gallon, AAA reported on Wednesday compared with $2.91/gallon at this time last year. Wednesday’s average price in Racine County was $5.16.

Regular unleaded gas price was $5.19 on June 14, 2022, in Racine, Wis. – Credit: Paul Holley

Will drivers be deterred?

Travel analysts – and public transit officials like Jung – have been watching to see if record-high pump prices might reduce overall driving and prompt some drivers to consider public transportation options.

“Based on the demand we’re seeing, it seems high prices have not really deterred drivers,” AAA spokesman Andrew Gross said in a statement. “If prices stay at or above $5, we may see people start to change their daily driving habits or lifestyle, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Citing Energy Information Administration data, AAA noted that U.S. gasoline stocks decreased last week while gasoline demand grew as drivers continue to fuel up for the summer driving season

Comparing costs

RYDE Racine’s nine fixed bus routes cover the City of Racine and adjacent communities, including Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant.

A bus ride is considerably cheaper than a gallon of gas today. A single fare (anyone age 6 and older) is $2. Seniors, disabled and Medicare recipients can ride for $1. Passes, allowing multiple rides, start at $4.

The Racine Transit system carried 1,041,115 riders in 2019 but ridership plummeted to 681,778 in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of businesses and schools. Ridership remained flat last year.

Previous Gasoline Price Spikes

Transit systems, including the City of Racine’s, benefited from world oil price spikes in the 1970s. Those situations sparked temporary gasoline shortages and sharply higher prices.

The Racine transit system’s ridership climbed from about 829,000 riders in 1975 to more than 3 million riders by 1980.

National Gasoline Price year-by-year comparison – Source: AAA

“It’s been interesting,” said Jung. “One crisis can mean a ridership decline and another, an increase.”

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...