Commuters leave their cars at home

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Public transit fares went up again on March 1, but Oslo-area commuters are taking the bus or tram like never before. Ridership has been soaring in recent months, while automobile traffic through local highway toll stations actually declined last year.

It now costs NOK 36 (just over USD 5) to buy an adult fare single-ride ticket on board an Oslo bus or tram. Fares drop to NOK 25 if you buy the ticket in advance at a kiosk or ticket machine, but that’s still much higher than in most cities.

Given Norway’s high prices for gasoline, high tolls in and out of downtown, and parking challenges, though, riding the metro, bus or tram can still seem reasonable. And while single fares went up, monthly passes went down. Officials like to think Norwegians have also become more environmentally conscious, as well as cost-conscious.

Whatever the reason, the public transit system now known as Ruter (formerly Oslo Sporveier) recently released figures showing an increase of around 250,000 boardings last year, up 6.4 percent. The number of vehicles passing through the toll gates that surround Oslo, meanwhile, declined by 1.3 percent. That indicates that public transit is taking market share away from private cars.

“These are very nice numbers,” Ruter director Bernt Reitan-Jenssen told Oslo newspaper Aften.

New carriages placed on the metro system known as the T-bane seemed to attract the most riders, with traffic up 9.5 percent. T-bane officials also note that the metro system added a new line and increased frequency on several routes. The tram system known as the trikk registered a gain of 3 million boardings in 2008, as compared to 2007. That resulted in an increase of 7.4 percent.

Boardings on local bus routes were up by 4.6 percent in 2008, while ferries reported a gain of 2.3 percent.

The introduction of more new T-bane carriages and new ferries are expected to attract more riders. Ruter officials predict traffic will continue to rise, and they vow ongoing attempts to cut delays and cancellations that earlier have plagued public transit in the capital.