Ridership for CitiBus grows
A line of people wait to get on the bus, Thursday afternoon, at the Ground Transportation Center in Davenport. (John Schultz/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Hopping on his bike and venturing into a light drizzle outside the downtown Davenport Ground Transportation Center, Greg Cavins said he gave up driving a car about four years ago.

The 24-year-old from Davenport had been in an accident and decided the cost of a new ride, insurance and gas just wasn’t worth it. He makes his way around Davenport just fine using bus and bike.

“I don’t have the money for a car, and it’s too much for gas these days,” he said.

He’s one of a growing number — both locally and nationally — eschewing the automobile for mass transit.

CitiBus — the Davenport mass transit operation — saw an increase in ridership from 1,022,815 in 2007 to 1,045,000. This comes despite reducing the total number of miles driven, due to route changes.

“It exceeded my expectations, considering the revamping of the system we did,” CitiBus General Manager Tom Wittig said. “We actually expected to see fewer riders.”

Davenport was not alone in experiencing a ridership boom.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, 10.3 billion trips were taken on public transportation nationally — the highest number of trips taken in 50 years. In the second quarter of 2008, public transportation rose by 5.2 percent. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration reported that vehicle miles driven fell by 3.3 percent in the same quarter.

For cities under 100,000 population, the average increase in bus ridership was 11 percent, according to APTA data.

Tim McWherter of Bettendorf is one of those new riders. He recently moved to the Quad-Cities from Sarasota, Fla. Despite owning a car, he prefers to ride the bus to his job at a restaurant in Moline.

“I use (the car) when I absolutely need it,” he said. “But the bus is cheaper. I never really took the bus when I lived in Florida. Gas prices and the fact I can take it to work are the two main reasons, I guess.”

Wittig said a combination of high gas prices and more aggressive advertising fueled the increase.

“The three transit systems in the Quad-Cities have done a tremendous job of marketing transit in this area,” he said. “People are seeing the value of using public transportation.”

The next hurdle to overcome, Wittig said, is a lingering stigma about the type of person who rides the bus.

Wittig hopes to make the bus more appealing to blue-collar workers by increasing evening hours in the future. Attracting large numbers of white-collar and professional workers, however, will prove difficult.

“I think gas could get to

$7 an hour, and they still will take the convenience of their car,” he said.

Wittig also praised the skill of his drivers, who faced a challenging year.

“Considering the snow, the ice and flooding, we only had one minor fender-bender all year,” he said. “The drivers are really what makes CitiBus.”

Tory Brecht can be contacted at (563) 383-2329 or tbrecht @qctimes.com. Comment on this story at qctimes.com.