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High gas prices push MTA ridership up

The Maryland Transit Administration logged its highest-ever monthly ridership last month, a rise in step with figures that show high gas prices have increased mass transit ridership nationwide.

The MTA clocked almost 415,000 riders in February, breaking its record of nearly 412,000 riders, set in September 2008 — the last time gas prices spiked near or above $4 a gallon.

A report released by the American Public Transportation Association this month said 2011 mass transit ridership — which amounted to 10.4 billion trips — was the most since 1957. The report attributed the rise to high gas prices and people returning to work in an improving economy.

In Maryland, the average gas price is $3.93 and the unemployment rate is 6.5 percent.

MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said in a statement that better equipment and improved system performance were responsible for the increase.

MARC train service was responsible for much of the MTA’s surge, with weekday ridership rising to more than 35,000 people — a 6.1 percent increase from last February. The Camden Line experienced the most growth, with a 7.9 percent increase in ridership. Penn Line ridership grew 6.7 percent and the Brunswick Line grew 3.2 percent.

Commuter bus service also saw gains in February, with average weekday ridership rising to 17,690, breaking the previous record of 17,390.