The way Joe Loring figures it, he's sort of getting paid to listen to music or read a book.
Loring has been using the city's public transportation system - the T - for just a few months. He kills the time spent waiting at bus stops reading or listening to tunes.
"I don't mind it because I figure I'd be doing the same thing if I was sitting at home anyway," Loring said.
What's different is that Loring isn't putting gasoline in his car, which has been broken down for the past six months.
"But even if my car was working, I don't think I would be using it," Loring said. "Gas is just so outrageous."
It appears Loring isn't alone. Ridership numbers for the T soared in May, jumping 25 percent compared with May 2005. For the first six months of the year, the numbers are up 15 percent.
"I think a couple of things are going on," said Cliff Galante, the city's public transit administrator. "I think there is a growing acceptance of public transportation in our community, but I think rising fuel costs are playing a factor in it as well."
The transit system is planning on conducting a survey of riders this September to determine why they're riding the bus, but Galante said a recent promotion in June gave him a good idea that gas prices are playing a role.
The system had its single busiest day - 2,038 riders - on June 9 when it participated in a national "Dump the Pump Day" event. All riders that day were allowed to ride for free as part of a promotion to raise awareness about how riding the bus can reduce gasoline bills.
Loring said he actually took the time to figure out how much he'd save by taking the bus from his home to work. He said he saves only about 25 cents per trip by taking the bus from downtown to his job as a lifeguard at the Indoor Aquatic Center near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. But that adds up to a couple bucks per week, plus it doesn't count any savings in terms of money he's not spending on car maintenance, insurance or other related expenses.
Some riders on Thursday said they thought the bus service also was becoming more popular with the elderly. Harold N. Fakhoury, a retired Kansas University employee, said he was looking for ways to save money in the face of rising prescription drug costs.
"Plus, there's a lot of us who don't have vehicles anymore," Fakhoury said.
Galante said he suspected the majority of riders on the system were still people who the industry terms as "dependent riders," or people who don't have other forms of motorized transportation. Galante, though, said he thought the T was doing a better job of attracting people who had vehicles but were choosing the T anyway.
He said the system is trying to market its buses as a good way to do a little downtown shopping on a Saturday, or as a way for youths to attend after-school events.
Loring said the system may have a little more work to do before it starts attracting large numbers of the "choice riders."
"The big thing is that they'll probably need to have the buses start going by each stop every 10 minutes or so," Loring said. "People in this country still like to move fast."
Galante said the city is studying with KU and the KU on Wheels bus system opportunities for more coordination or consolidation that could increase the frequency of buses. A report on the subject is expected to be completed by November.
The T receives the bulk of its funding through a federal transportation grant. In 2006, local taxes provide about $600,000 in revenue, while fares are expected to generate about $150,000. The system is expected to provide about 500,000 rides this year.