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Gas prices drop, buses empty and smog thickens

By Whitney Eversole

Gas prices reached as low as $1.92 in Logan on Tuesday. But while plunging oil prices have been a boon for the pocketbooks of commuters, it’s been a bust for local mass transit agencies.

And possibly for the health of everyone in Cache Valley.

Transportation officials believe the considerably lower costs for fuel are having an impact on public bus ridership. The Aggie Shuttle, a free transit system for students, staff and faculty members at Utah State University, has seen an 8 percent decrease in ridership since last winter, dropping from 141,497 riders in December 2014 to 130,051 in December 2015.

Meanwhile the Cache Valley Transit District, a valley-wide transit agency that is one of the few remaining free public bus systems in the country, has seen more than a 20 percent drop on its buses.

“The lower the gas prices, the more people will tend to use a personal vehicle rather than the bus,” said Todd Beutler, the general manager and CEO of CVTD.

James Nye, director of the Parking and Transportation Department at Utah State, agreed.

“The biggest issue is fuel prices,” Nye said. “High fuel costs have a direct correlation with how often people use transportation and reductions in driving their personal vehicle. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also a correlation between low gas prices and air quality.”

Esteemed for its outdoor opportunities but increasingly known for its sickeningly thick smog, Logan was rated the 8th worst in the nation for short-term particle pollution in 2015 by the American Lung Association.

Air quality is worst in the winter months, which is also when gas prices are the lowest, especially this year.

Nye explained that there has yet to be a study directly linking air quality with gas prices, but that is something he would like to see.

“With air pollution ever increasing, people need to know that you shouldn’t drive your car just because it is cheaper,” Nye said. “The bus is free.”

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-mdl