"I see people who have cars who are riding," he said. "Two months ago, you'd know you have a seat. Now, when you get on the bus, there are barely any seats left. More and more people are starting to ride."

Collier County officials don't know whether the steep increase in ridership in recent months is tied to high gas prices, extended bus routes, growth, or a combination of all these factors.

In April, Collier County's public bus system rolled out extended service. For the first time, Immokalee residents had CAT service on Saturdays, and the number of routes from that community heading into Naples doubled.

"Our ridership since 2001 has exceeded all expectations," Suchsland said. "We had a 500 percent increase from our stats in 2001 to the end of fiscal 2005.

The higher gas prices may be causing more people to turn to public transportation. But it also has increased the costs of operating the CAT system, which has resulted in a proposed fare increase.

The base fare is slated to increase from $1 to $1.25. The Collier County Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday.

Matthew Batson said he has a car but has hesitated to get his license because of the high gas and insurance costs. Therefore, he continues to ride the bus to get around town.

Batson said he soon plans to get his license so he can drive his car out of town to his new home in Alabama. He said he grew up in Naples but it now costs too much to live here.

Batson, who works at a convenience store, said he makes about $8.75 an hour, which is not enough to pay for the gas and insurance of operating a car.

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