The Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority carried close to 400,000 people in the fiscal year from July 1, 2000 through June 30, 2001. Transit authority administrator Angie Gompert said she estimates 200,000 people were served this July and another 200,000 in August.

Five new buses were added to the fleet this year. The transit authority now operates 17 buses that hold about 24 passengers each, three buses that hold 36 and five buses that hold 35. Seven days a week, the earliest bus is on the road at 5:30 a.m. and the last bus at night makes a final wee-hours run at 1:37 a.m.

The most popular route for fiscal year 2000-2001 was service along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, which was up to 81,893 passengers from 78,133 the previous year. The largest drop in service for a destination was Tisbury in-town, which fell by 26 per cent from the 2000 fiscal year total of 8,415. Ms. Gompert said of that decline, "The town continues to charge for parking at the Park and Ride and the ridership continues to fall."

The overall increase in ridership is due in part, Ms. Gompert said, to word of mouth catching on, the market from visitors and raised awareness among employers on the Island.

The bus service is so busy during the summer months that some buses reach full capacity and have to leave people behind. A slight alteration in one route increased the number of passengers by 130 per cent. Route 2, last year, went from Vineyard Haven to Lambert's Cove. This year that route extends to West Tisbury, and served a total of 3,028 riders.

The third-highest number of riders came from the authority's newest route, Vineyard Haven/Oak Bluffs/

Edgartown via Beach Road. This is the first full season that the authority has been the sole operator along Beach Road. The authority took over the route from Island Transport last October. About 50,000 passengers traveled along Beach Road for the fiscal year recently ended.

"A great majority of our ridership is visitors," said John Alley, chairman of the transit authority board. "This translates into fewer cars and fewer mopeds." Visitors who are aware of the dangers of riding mopeds on the Island may opt for the buses instead of the risks. Mr. Alley said the transit authority and West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey worked together to create a moped parking area up-Island because the roads there are so narrow. VTA's West Tisbury-Aquinnah route has seen its ridership increase by 26 per cent, from about 24,000 riders in fiscal year 2000 to just over 30,000 in fiscal year 2001.

The increase in ridership conveys the need and demand visitors and Islanders have for public transportation. A 67 per cent increase this year during the off-season, from Columbus Day until mid-May, also points to new patterns in public usage of the system. About 50,000 riders took advantage of VTA's service out of season compared to about 30,000 the year before.

Gas prices, traffic and parking are three factors that contribute to VTA's growing ridership. Mr. Alley said even if the gas prices were down, he would still hop on a bus to go run his errands because a parking space is always hard to find.

"The transit authority is looking to refine its routes for next summer," said Mr. Alley. "We expect an increase in popularity. Public transportation is a growing thing on the Vineyard. We have lagged behind for a number of years, and now we are playing catch-up."