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Ridership at a high on local buses

Petaluma resident Yemina Ibanez has been riding Petaluma Transit for 16 years. She doesn't own a car, so the bus is her only means of transportation.

"I use it to go shopping, run errands, visit friends, everything," she said. "It's been really handy for me."

Ibanez is just one of an increasing number of people turning to the local bus system as a reliable way to get around, something that Petaluma Transit Manager Joseph Rye partly attributes to a recent restructuring of bus routes.

Ibanez said that she remembers using the transit system in Petaluma before it went through a massive restructuring in 2010, and said that she finds it much easier to get where she needs to go since the updated routes took effect.

"Before it would take a long time to get from one part of town to another, but now the ride is much faster," she said as she sat waiting with her two children at the transit center on Copeland and East Washington Streets to catch the number 24 bus to visit a friend.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Amber, said that they ride the bus almost every day. "It's really fun to ride," she said, grinning.

Rye said that the July 2010 restructuring dropped service hours by 16 percent, but simultaneously managed to increase ridership by a whopping 40 percent. He credits public surveys and focus groups that his organization conducted with helping to transform Petaluma Transit into a more user-friendly service.

"The old system was very downtown-centric," he said. "But we discovered that most of our riders live on the east side of town and that service wasn't very good over there. So we restructured the routes but kept most of the stops the same and we created the transit hub on Maria Drive, which allowed for an easy eastside-to-eastside trip."

Rye acknowledges that the economic downturn and reduced tax revenue forced his organization to push for restructured routes.

"We just lucked out that there were some major changes needed when I came on," he said, adding that he didn't anticipate pulling any more "rabbits out of our hats" in terms of increasing ridership while cutting costs.

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