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Fare Free Friday has been called a success and, with gas prices continuing to climb, there's no reason to believe the local transit promotion won't attract even more riders during its second year.

Representatives of Missoula's Mountain Line and Karl Tyler Chevrolet, which stepped forward to sponsor the first year of Fare Free Friday in 2007, announced Thursday morning that the summer program will be renewed with a couple of new twists.

The auto dealership also will sponsor rides on the Mountain Line's Western Montana Fair shuttle in August, and has purchased a battery-assisted BionX bicycle from Lightfoot Cycles in Darby to offer as a summer's-end raffle prize for those using Fare Free Friday or the fair shuttle.

The bike has a retail value of $2,026.

"Last summer, we saw about a 10 percent to

15 percent increase in ridership every Friday, which is great," Steve Earle, general manager of Mountain Line, said Thursday. "We anticipate even more participation this year."

Earle said there's no question that rapidly escalating gas prices have helped fuel greater interest in Mountain Line services over the past few months.

"Last year, the results were fantastic," said Karl Tyler general manager Jason Nordberg. "We had an increase in ridership every Friday over the rest of the days during the week, so we thought - with gas prices obviously not going down - we'd do Fare Free Fridays again."

Nordberg said the dealership received "a lot of nice thank-you letters and phone calls from people in the community that might not necessarily be thanking a car dealership."

Rod Miner of Lightfoot Cycles had an interesting comparison between what the BionX bike, which uses a lithium ion battery to power a hub motor in the rear wheel, can do based on the price of gasoline.

"The system senses the effort of the cyclist," Miner explained. "It uses very little power. Four dollars (about the price of a gallon of gas) will buy, at 10 cents a kilowatt hour, enough power to propel this cycle 800 miles at 20 miles an hour maximum."

Earle said it would be great to have other sponsors step forward to make it easier for people to ride the bus, especially when the economy is in a downturn.

"We're sure hoping that out of this will grow additional partnerships with all kinds of different businesses and community agencies," he said.

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