Senior citizens and children have contributed to an 11.5 percent increase in ridership on the Howard Area Transit Service during a 12-month period that ended in June, officials told the Public Transportation Board last night.
From July 1998 through June, 287,858 people used the service, said Peter Hefler of the Corridor Transportation Corp. of Laurel, which manages the bus system for the county.
Between July 1997 and June of last year, 258,169 passengers rode the bus system, Hefler said.
He attributed most of the growth to senior citizens and children ages 6 to 11, who combined to increase ridership by 8,000 passengers.
"I believe that the age of Howard County is showing somewhat in the number of elderly riders we have," Hefler said. "At the same time, the young folks must be doing something, too."
The growth in ridership figured prominently in persuading County Executive James N. Robey to increase funding for the bus system by 30 percent.
The additional dollars have allowed transit officials to implement several changes.
Four new 20-passenger buses have been added to the system, and officials are using a grant from the state Mass Transit Administration to "remanufacture" four aging buses.
More runs have been added to the yellow route, which serves Dorsey's Search and Ellicott City, the green route, which serves Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake, and the orange route, which serves Hickory Ridge.
The waiting time for buses on those routes has been reduced from 90 minutes to 45 minutes.
"I'd like to think that one of the reasons why more people are using the buses is because every fix we make makes it more convenient for them," Hefler said. "I think it suggests that we're going in the right direction in terms of improvements to the system."
The Corridor official said a route will open in January from the Ten Oaks Shopping Center in Clarksville to the National Security Agency building in western Anne Arundel County.
Funded by the NSA, the MTA and the federal government, the blue route -- which also includes stops at The Mall in Columbia, the Park & Ride Lot at U.S. 29 and Broken Land Parkway and the Maryland Rail Commuter service (MARC) station in Savage -- will require three new buses for the estimated 55-minute, one-way trip, Hefler said.
He said the new service will restore a route between the MARC station and the mall that had been discontinued because of disappointing ridership.
Carl Balser, the county's transportation planning chief, announced at last night's meeting that the Federal Transit Administration has awarded the county a $653,760 "reverse commute" grant to transport people from Baltimore's impoverished empowerment zones to jobs in Howard County.
Balser said the service could start in November.