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SLO County is priciest at the pump

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

As fuel prices climb above $4 a gallon, more San Luis Obispo County residents are finding ways to avoid filling up as often.

Ridership on local buses has risen, and more people are buying bus passes, said Aimee M. Wyatt of San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority.

“Anecdotally, Fridays are usually a slower day for us, and we had standees on our commute routes coming into town this morning,” she wrote in an email last Friday.

The average price for regular unleaded gas in the Atascadero/Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo area was $4.17 a gallon on Thursday, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report. That price was 23 cents more than a month ago, $1 more than a year ago and the highest average in the California markets surveyed by AAA.

Statewide, the average price for a gallon of regular gas was $4.11 Tuesday.

The cost has prompted some commuters to search for carpools. In March, as gas prices crossed the $4 threshold, rideshare.org had 90 new registrants, said Morgen Marshall, a program manager for San Luis Obispo Regional Rideshare.

In February, 73 additional people signed up; in January, the program had 72 new registrants. The system currently has about 1,300 users and allows them to find carpool matches based on their commute route and type.

“As we gear up for Bike Month this May, I hope the price of gas will serve as an additional motivator for people to choose active (and FREE) transportation instead of driving alone,” Marshall wrote in an email.

RTA ridership actually began to climb nine months ago, before gas prices started to escalate, said RTA Executive Director Edward King. He attributes the increase to marketing promotions, partnerships with community organizations and the transit authority’s ability “to provide more reliable and consistent service.”

In March, RTA ridership climbed 8 percent to its second-highest number of riders — more than 57,000 — taking one of the four bus routes to the northern, southern and coastal areas of the county.

Ridership increased 11 percent in January compared with the same month in 2010, with more than 48,000 people boarding a fixed-route bus, and 6 percent in February, with more than 49,000 riders.

Julia Hickey contributed to this report.

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