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Across the country, more than 150 transit systems are promoting ridership and thanking customers as part of the 13th annual National Dump the Pump Day, an initiative by the American Public Transportation Association.
On Thursday, residents in Lubbock, Texas; Greensboro, North Carolina and Franklin, Tennessee rode public buses for free. In Cincinnati, bus and streetcar riders could stop by main transit hubs for goodie bags and giveaways. And in Santa Fe, transit riders passing through the South Capitol Transit Station grabbed free coffee and doughnuts before heading on their morning commutes.
Across the country, more than 150 transit systems promoted ridership and thanked customers as part of the 13th annual National Dump the Pump Day, an initiative by the American Public Transportation Association that “highlights public transportation as a convenient travel option that also helps people save money.”
According to the APTA’s June Transit Savings Report, a two-person household can save an average of more than $10,160 annually by downsizing to one car and using public transit. Access to public transportation has also been shown to benefit the environment, boost economic output in a community and increase chances of escaping poverty,
APTA started the national day in 2006, after consumers were shocked—and then outraged—when gas prices spiked to $3 per gallon. Gas prices have since decreased —though they’re on the rise at the moment—but dozens of transit agencies still participate in the promotion each year. Many see it as a way to thank their existing riders while touting the benefits of public transportation for would-be customers.
“We’re thanking transit riders for choosing transit and leaving their car at home, especially during the summer when gas prices are higher,” Tim Nazanin, communications manager for Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority, told Route Fifty. “It’s just a good way to have a conversation with people about transit being a good option.”
During morning rush hour, RTA offered free coffee and mini doughnuts to commuters at three transit locations who showed a Ventra Card, the Ventra mobile app or Metra ticket. Thursday night, RTA partnered with the Chicago White Sox to encourage the use of public transit to travel to the game versus the Oakland Athletics, where the first 10,000 fans to enter the park received a transit-themed T-shirt.
But most of the participating transit systems are smaller. The promotion doesn’t always lead to a sizable uptick in ridership, but that’s secondary to showing appreciation for regular commuters, said Michelle Cantey, spokeswoman for Coast Regional Transportation Authority in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area.
“Any opportunity in which we can participate to show appreciation or build awareness for the local community in supporting public transportation, we’re happy to participate,” Cantey told Route Fifty. “It isn’t so much about a one-day ridership boost as it is about building that long-term loyalty.”
Coast RTA manages 20 buses on 10 fixed routes plus an entertainment shuttle, which service two counties and the 60-mile strand of the greater Myrtle Beach area. The transit agency must balance service in a high-traffic tourist area with providing viable options to rural, agricultural communities that depend on public transportation to get to work. That includes six routes that travel into the country to pick up passengers and transport them to a connector or directly to the beach by early morning. Most of those riders work in the hospitality industry, Cantey said.
“We frequently have people in the rural areas tell us that they wouldn’t have a job if they couldn’t take the bus,” she said.
To celebrate Dump the Pump Day, Coast RTA planned to distribute transit facts to passengers at its transfer centers, hand out “I support public transportation!” stickers and provide Coast RTA coloring books to younger riders. Certain bus seats had Dump the Pump flyers hidden beneath them, entitling the passenger to a bus pass ranging in value from $3 to $20.
“It’s just anything we can do to to basically say ‘thank you for choosing to ride,’” Cantey said.
Other participating systems included:
Riverside Transit Agency, Riverside, California: RTA’s street team provided giveaways and a limited number of free day passes and a Google Home Mini at Riverside City Hall.
Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation, Chattanooga, Tennessee: Free bus rides, plus giveaways of reusable tote bags, some of which contained bus passes.
Metro McAllen, McAllen, Texas: McAllen Central Station housed a free photo booth where riders could snap photos, which were placed in a Dump the Pump frame. Riders could also meet the Metro McAllen mascot and receive free snow cones.
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Atlanta: Last weekend, the transit agency hosted its sixth annual Dump the Pump Scavenger Hunt. Five winning teams received prizes, with members of the first-place team taking home a $425 Visa gift card.
Capital Area Transit, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: CAT co-sponsored a selfie contest with prizes and giveaways at the Harrisburg Transfer Center in conjunction with Commuter Services of PA.
Free transit rides: Available in Abingdon, Maryland; Altoona, Pennsylvania; Berlin, New Hampshire; Clarksville, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; Elkton, Maryland; Escambia, Florida; Flagstaff, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; Longview, Texas; Midland, Texas; Port Richey, Florida and Stockton, California.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.