PORTLAND — A near 30-year high in ridership on Metro buses can be traced to some of the city’s younger riders.

Denise Beck, marketing director for the public transportation service that also includes Westbrook, South Portland and Falmouth, announced Jan. 13 that ridership in 2015 reached 1.56 million.

The total marks a 5.3 percent increase over 2014 and is the highest since 1986, Beck said in a news release.

A partnership with Portland Public Schools is the primary cause of increased use: new passes allos students at Portland, Deering and Casco Bay high schools to use buses throughout the week.

Beck said the partnership, which replaced transportation on School Department buses, resulted in more than 1,300 additional rides each week and more than 100,000 weekend rides from September through December.

Students can also use the passes to get to jobs or travel through the city when they are not in school.

The weekday school routes also resulted in the creation of a new route, primarily along Congress Street and Washington and Stevens avenues. 

“It ties together all three high schools with one route,” Metro General Manager Greg Jordan said last summer. “It makes it much more convenient.”

Metro operated on a $7.5 million budget in 2015. Jordan said the partnership was expected to cost the bus service an additional $78,000.

Revenue generated from the school passes was not mentioned in the press release, but the 2015 budget anticipated an overall $2.3 million in revenues, as well as $3.04 million in local subsidies from the city, Westbrook and Falmouth, and $1.65 million in federal funds.

The increased student ridership also came as Metro anticipated losses in revenue for passes provided to MaineCare recipients.

Beck said the ridership increases also come as Metro upgrades and expands its service in the spring to Freeport and Yarmouth. There are also plans to construct 25 new bus shelters, Beck said.

Riders will also be able to get more “real-time” information about bus service on the Metro website, and from apps and text messages.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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