Without a car, Carla Martinez has to plan her shopping trips in Petaluma carefully.
"It gets really crowded at school times," she said. "But I'm just glad to be able to use the bus. It's pretty convenient."
Headed home this week lugging two bags of groceries, Martinez was able to catch a Petaluma Transit bus not far from Grocery Outlet at a busy bus stop on Copeland Street.
Martinez, who has used the bus system for years, has noticed an increase in the number of passengers recently.
Her perception is reality. Ridership has more than doubled in the past five years, said Transit Manager Joe Rye.
The increase is so marked, in fact, that Petaluma recently bought three used buses from Santa Rosa to add to its fleet of eight buses.
At 40 feet, the 1999 New Flyers with more than half-a-million miles already are bigger than any of the current city buses and will hold Petaluma over for another two years, when it can buy new buses to augment the fleet.
Ridership has increased from about 150,000 a few years ago to about 350,000 last year, much of that attributed to a focus on serving junior high and high school students. About 1,600 people ride city buses each day, several hundred of whom are students.
Partnering with Petaluma City Schools, marketing bus passes to students and rescheduling bus routes to match school schedules helped immensely, said Transit Advisory Committee Chair Dave Alden.
"Convenience and dependability," he said. "When SMART comes into play, that will be even more important. You'll be able to know you can get off the bus and catch the SMART train."