LATS riders up

Lawton_It seems as if every time you hit the road, there's a different price on the gas pumps.  One east Lawton gas station had four different prices in a 36-hour span, dropping to $3.79 late Thursday afternoon before going back up to $3.91 Friday.  However, one transportation price remains constant--the single dollar it costs to ride on a Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) bus.  As other expenses increase, more and more riders are switching to LATS.

LATS had about 403,000 riders in the last fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008.  That's 60,000 more riders than in the 2006-2007 fiscal year, and 100,000 more than they had from July 2005 to June 2006.

A number of their riders have cars, but due to the costs of car maintenance, insurance, and fuel, it isn't worth it for them to drive these days.

"Trying to save, with the prices of gas going up, you never know when they're low and they're going up the next day, and everyone's just trying to save a penny," said Kathleen Sanchez, who's ridden LATS for the past couple of weeks.

Shandell Tillman rode LATS with Sanchez today.  She said paying for gas and insurance became too expensive.  "LATS is good because it's only a dollar and it's cheaper than gas right now," said Sanchez.

It has cost a dollar for a LATS ride ever since the transit system started running in 2002.  The LATS general manager, Steve Sherrer, said there's no way to measure exactly how many people have switched to LATS as a result of high gas prices, but it's definitely a factor.  He said the bus system also has to keep an eye on the cost of fuel.

"The gas prices are kind of a double-edged sword for us,"  Sherrer said.  "They cause people to get out and try the bus system that haven't done that before, but at the same time we pay quite a bit more for fuel than we have in the past."

He added that revenues have increased because there are more passengers, which helps with costs.  People who've ridden for several years have also observed an increase in the number of people on the bus with them.

"When I first started riding, there were maybe 3 or 4," said third-year rider Essence Lewis.  "Now it's pretty packed."

Sherrer says gas prices aren't the only reason.  "I think familiarity with the service and the fact that people are comfortable with the buses being on time and being safe, being reliable."

And riders notice the reliability, as well as the discounted rate of 50 cents for seniors and students.