Daniel Rodriguez, a UNC professor specializing in transportation and its effect on the environment, said lower gas prices impact public transportation in two ways.
“From the agency’s perspective, it’s wonderful because it decreases operating costs,” he said. “Because gasoline is lower, there is lower incentive for people to use transportation.”
But lower gas prices are an invitation to drive, which isn’t good for the environment, Rodriguez said.
This rings true for Triangle Transit rider Monica Young, who said with lower gas prices, it makes more sense to drive a car.
“If I did have a car, I would drive more,” she said.
Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit, said lower gas prices will have some effect on ridership, but less so than the effect on other systems.
“When gas prices went through the roof a couple of years ago, transit systems throughout the country saw a very large ridership gain,” he said. “Chapel Hill Transit stayed rather steady throughout that time.”
Litchfield said ridership over the past three years has remained relatively steady with seven million rides a year.
“We’re fortunate enough to serve a very compact area,” he said. “Trips people take with us seem like longer trips but are not like people that are traveling across the Triangle.”
Honey Allen said she rides the bus because it’s cheaper.
“I’m actually riding the bus in order to save up for a car,” said Allen, a Chapel Hill Transit rider, as she was about to board the NS bus.
Schulz said he has seen an increase in ridership over the past four months.
He said when comparing ridership from this past year to 2013, they saw a 7.9 percent increase in September, a 4.7 percent increase in October and a 4.8 percent increase in December. Schulz said there was a 1 percent decrease in November.
“The only thing that could have contributed to a slight decrease would have been the Thanksgiving holiday,” he said.
Litchfield said when Chapel Hill Transit looks at purchasing fuel, there’s always a chance for it to take advantage of lower than average prices.
“It’s a little too early to draw too many conclusions,” Litchfield said. “No one knows if these gas prices are a long-term trend or something that could change tomorrow.”