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Mountain Line ridership on the rise, but still well below pre-COVID totals

Mountain Line General Manager Maria Smith said public transit numbers are rebounding nationally post-COVID, but the comeback is going to take some time. 

For the five years prior to COVID — 2015 to 2019 — Mountain Line averaged 991,544 total riders annually. 

Then came the pandemic. 

In 2020, Mountain Line had 433,877 riders, marking the first time that number had been below 500,000 since 2005. Things worsened in 2021 as 402,788 riders took the bus, setting a 19-year low. 

The last two years have been better. Ridership numbers jumped 37% from 2021 to 2022 (552,754), then another 18% in 2023 (662,172). 

But they remain well below pre-COVID totals. 

“We’re making a slow comeback, which is pretty similar to other transit providers across the nation,” Smith said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re on par.”   

To help hasten that process, the transit authority paid Burges & Burges Strategists $42,000 to conduct phone and online surveys. 

Among the takeaways, those who relied on Mountain Line before COVID do so now more than ever.  

“We think this has more to do with bigger socio-economic trends and their impact on local economies than anything related to health/safety concerns,” Smith explained. “Through the survey we have a better understanding of why our residents and visitors ride or don’t ride and we now have a path moving forward to bring ridership back.”   

The high-water mark for ridership came in 2012, when 1,291,913 rides were provided.

In other Mountain Line news, Smith said she’s hopeful the transit provider’s new liquid propane-powered buses will be rolling out by the end of April. 

Last May, the transit authority approved the purchase of three smaller non-CDL buses for $520,560 with the intent of having those vehicles converted over to liquid propane. 

It was explained that propane is cheaper than gasoline or diesel and offers the same vehicle range as traditional fuels, while meeting current and future emissions standards. 

Propane buses also require no special parts and inventory or extensive training of garage personnel, like electric buses, which are also far-more expensive. 

“There has been a hold-up because the conversion kits for converting the vehicles to propane have been delayed,” Smith recently told members of the Mountain Line Transit Authority. “Once the vehicles get here, we have to put in fare boxes and get the graphics put on and some other things that we have to do to prep them before they go on the road. Hopeful for an April launch for the propane vehicles.”  

Lastly, the transit authority will welcome a new member at its February meeting. 

Russ Rogerson was recently appointed by the Monongalia County Commission to fill the unexpired term of former member Ron Bane. 

Rogerson is president and CEO of the Morgantown Area Partnership. 

He’ll join Jenny Dinsmore, Terri Cutright, Wes Nugent, Marly Ynigues, Jonathan Cook and Jeremy Evans on the transit board. 

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