Newly released data shows an uptick in commuter bus ridership in Cincinnati. The figures from Metro show a 10.9 percent ridership increase for May when compared to last year, and is the fifth straight month of such ridership increases. Officials believe that the increase is a result of increasing gas prices.

“It’s exciting to see the growth in our commuter market,” Metro CEO Terry Garcia Crews said in a prepared statement. “This increase demonstrates that viable option for our residents.”

Such gains may prove difficult to maintain though as economic conditions continue to stagnate and gas prices begin to level off. According to recent reports, unemployment climbed in May and is the highest it has been in 2011. Additionally, employers were reported as adding the fewest workers in eight months.

Metro bus at Government Square in downtown Cincinnati.

Gas prices have also declined from the highest levels since July 2008. These two factors may be tricky for transit officials as they attempt to project ridership patterns for the rest of year. Previously, Metro has been very susceptible to such economic activity, with ridership often declining with the economy.

Even with that said, Metro officials believe that long-term rises in gas prices signal positive ridership trends for the transit agency as commuters look to their wallets.

“If you drive 20 or 25 miles one-way to work, you’re probably using two gallons of gas a day,” Crews explained. “Metro offers a convenient alternative to paying higher gas prices.”

According to Metro officials, these savings can add up. The regional transit agency estimates that local commuters can save $4,500 or more each year by riding transit.

Further complicating the matter is a reduction of state funding support for express commuter bus service. In February, newly elected Governor Kasich (R) cut $70 million which was to support such bus service throughout Ohio. The cuts hit Cincinnati by eliminating funding for express routes from Cincinnati’s western and northern suburbs into Uptown.

Whether commuters will continue to turn to express commuter bus service or not is yet to be seen, but it appears that Metro is banking on such future activity with the recent announcement to expand express bus service to Cincinnati’s northern and western suburbs by cutting service elsewhere.