BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - High gas prices and a struggling economy have helped take public transportation in South Mississippi to a whole new level. This year, for the first time ever, Coast Transit Authority officials say total ridership hit the one million mark.
The lucky one millionth customer has been taking that ride for 21 years. Now Jane Shambra will be enjoying a lifetime of free rides.
"It's an excellent service. We always promote it with our friends and with people that come to the coast. I can't say enough about it," said Shambra. "
After the storm, there was free ridership available to anyone who needed it to take care of business. There's also services to the military and people who need to go to the hospital. It's just awesome."
CTA officials said it feels good to finally reach their goal to give one million rides in a year's time. They believe a weak economy and unstable gas prices are fueling the customer increase.
Jerry Dodge is a CTA Commissioner representing the city of D'Iberville.
"Every time that the cost of fuel rises, as it's done over the last few years, and it's swung up and down, ridership increases. Each time that happens, more people come out and see how easy the system is to use and they continue on even after the fuel prices go down."
Getting this far hasn't always been easy. Recently, CTA has had to balance keeping prices affordable and dealing with budget cuts from coast cities.
"We have had to tighten our belt just like all of the municipalities have had to tighten their belts," Dodge said. "Rather than cut services, what we've done, through Kevin Coggin's leadership, is to examine the way we do business and how we deliver our product. We have made changes, but it's just made the system more efficient."
CTA gave out free one day passes to customers to show its appreciation for their business.
"There's nowhere to go but up. Maybe we'll shoot for two million now," said Dodge.
CTA officials said the Bike and Bus program which allows cyclists to mount their bikes to the front of the bus while they ride is flourishing. Last month, 1,400 people took advantage of the program.