PA: BARTA Hopes Free Rides Will Get More On Board

June 20--Ryan Furgerson, BARTA's deputy director, had worked out a sort of rapid-fire system for distributing envelopes to commuters flowing out of the Poplar and Walnut parking garage in Reading.

The key, he noted, was handing the envelope in a way to prominently display the label indicating that a free bus pass was inside.

Some people said "no thank you" and rushed past. Some gave him a strange look but took the envelope anyway. Others stopped to chat and thanked him for the pass.

If even a couple people try the bus who haven't before, Furgerson said, mission accomplished.

"We're trying to reach out to folks who wouldn't have considered taking the bus," he said.

He was one of several officials from BARTA and Commuter Services, a nonprofit group that promotes transit, handing out free bus passes Thursday in an effort to covert a few drivers to bus riders. They hit city parking garages and a few suburban gas stations.

The effort was part of Dump the Pump Day, a national initiative to promote public transportation.

In the past, BARTA had marked the occasion with essay contests to win passes. This year, the agency decided to switch gears and see whether distributing free passes gets people to try the bus. The passes are marked so BARTA will be able to track whether they're used.

Using public transportation as a means of easing traffic has been a hot topic lately.

The Buttonwood Street and Penn Street bridges are scheduled to undergo repairs in the next few years and that will snarl downtown traffic. BARTA is planning to run a shuttle route between downtown Reading and Wyomissing to lessen traffic.

The passes are good through 2020 so they don't have to be used immediately, said Janet M. Weiss, BARTA marketing manager. Some people might use them once the bridge work starts.

"They might not use it right away," she said. "But when they sit in traffic for a while, a light bulb might come on and they say: 'Hey, I've got that pass. Let me try BARTA.'"

Mandi Painter of Laureldale grabbed a pass from Weiss while heading up Court Street to the Berks County Courthouse. Painter said she doesn't ride the bus as much as she used to but the pass will still be good to have.

"I have a car but you never know, something could always happen to the car," she said.

Back at the Washington Street exit of the Walnut and Poplar garage, Minerva Ruiz-Ocasio of Shillington thanked Furgerson for the pass.

She needs her car with her at work because she needs to make visits as part of her job in the county's Children and Youth Services department. But she may find other uses for the pass.

"It's nice to know I have it," she said.

Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or

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