In the past three months, Ann Arbor’s bus system has seen a 12 percent rider increase, up by 134,000 passenger rides, from last year.

University Facilities spokeswoman Diane Brown attributes this rise to the new MRide Program, which allows all University students, faculty and staff to ride for free on any of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s “regular fixed-route” buses at any time. TheRide, a part of the AATA – a non-profit unit of the local government — provided 1,220,000 passenger rides in the three-month period from September through November of this year. The most-used AATA routes were those going between North and Central campuses.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Brown said. “Our whole community benefits when people use this program.”

The MRide program allows passengers to get around campus and to off-campus destinations like grocery stores, malls, restaurants and theaters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and other nearby areas.

LSA sophomore Jackie Richey said she is happy about the creation of the MRide Program, which eliminated the $1 fee riders had to pay before September.

“(It is a benefit) for me, especially because I can go to the mall without worrying about how to get there and how to get back. It’s easy,” she said.

Richey, who does not have a car on campus, said she currently takes the AATA buses to the Briarwood Mall and to the Main Street shopping area because it reduces walking.

Brandon Clark, an LSA freshman who also does not have a car on campus, said he takes the bus frequently to go to Briarwood Mall and surrounding music stores.

“It’s convenient and I catch the bus without worrying about the change now,” he said, referring to the quarters needed to pay the previous fare.

The input from University students is currently helping the AATA decide how to distribute the 8,000 additional service hours it has decided to implement. A service hour refers to the amount of time a bus rides on a specific route.

Earlier this semester, the University put up four locations around campus where people could talk with both AATA representatives and University transit officials. The officials also sent out e-mails to students and faculty to request recommendations and ideas. All of those who provided feedback on the MRide program were allowed to vote for the changes. The ideas that obtained the top votes received priority, although they were not all possible to enact, Brown said.

An announcement detailing how the bus routes will expand will be made at the end of January.

“Technically 8,000 is not a lot, but it’s a little boost,” Brown said.

In addition to the increased hours of operation, the increased bus usage means potentially taking cars off the roads, which could reduce the traffic, noise pollution and parking hardships, although statistics are not yet available. The buses also help to increase business for retailers because the routes allow more students to commute longer distances, especially students without access to a car, Brown said.

“It’s truly assisting the whole mass transit,” Brown said.

The MRide Program, which receives its $1.8 million funding through an annual combination of $1.1 million from the Federal Transit Administration and $700,000 from the University, has a contract that expires after five years.

Although there are not yet plans to continue with the program, Brown does not think that it will be terminated at the end of the contract — especially with both parties benefiting. University transit experienced a 7 percent increase in ridership and the AATA recorded a 12 percent increase.

The Link, a division of AATA, also offers free services to all Mcard users to the downtown areas as well as Central Campus. Until the end of January, The Link is free for all other passengers too.

Other AATA services available to University and non-University passengers but not free of charge, include Night Ride, Holiday Ride, A-Ride, Football Ride and RideShare.

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