Lawton_The Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) turned six on Tuesday, and what a six years it has been. Monthly ridership has more than doubled from 14,000 per month in 2002 to over 30,000 a month - and that's just for this year. "From this time last year until now, we've had about a 16% increase in ridership," says LATS Director of Operations Pauline Garrett. "So that tells us a tremendous lot - that we're needed here."
As travel costs become more expensive due to record high gas prices, the need for public transportation grows. LATS has seen more riders every month, and rider William Browning says the service has saved his life. "I had a heart attack one day on the Red bus, just across the street from the hospital," he said. "If I hadn't been on there I might not have made it." Browning and many others have now become regulars.
"If you build it, they will come," and LATS is proof. "Ridership has increased because the people need it," says LATS driver Jim Cox. "Not only because of rising fuel prices, but because it's a way of transportation for them." The transit system is an essential for LATS riders - even if it's only for a few days. One rider's car had broken down, and he rode on LATS for the second time on Tuesday. He says it's very convenient. "I just sit here and wait for the bus," he said. "Shoot [it's] only a dollar. It'll take me across town."
LATS Management says they have noticed a boost in the number of people taking advantage of public transportation. "Ridership has increased quite a bit just since that's [rising gas costs] been happening," says Garrett. And, she says it's cost effective. "We hear a lot of comments from passengers on how we're able to keep our rates the same." It's still just $1 per ride.
LATS passenger Alfonzo McCarthy moved to Lawton from Virginia. He would ride DC's metro system daily - instead of using a car. He says LATS provides the same convenience. "I'm able to just save money with the price of gas going up," he said. "It conveniently gets me to work. LATS here is awesome. For anybody who comes to Lawton from a big city, they'll realize that the public transportation here is a lot easier to follow."
For some, it's not just a way of getting around town - it's a way of life. It couldn't be more true for Browning after his heart attack. LATS provides the type of service that keeps customers coming back. "I've been a loyal rider ever since the bus has been running - I ride every day," said Browning.
LATS recently added a "thirteenth hour" - an additional hour of service from 6-7 p.m.. They say they're getting as many as 6,000 more riders per month since extending their service hours.
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