SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sailors here won’t have to walk or catch a taxi to get across main base during the day’s busiest hours.

A shuttle that operated as part of a pilot program from Sept. 19 to Oct. 19 has been extended for a year, making it the only free public transportation serving areas along the base piers.

Anyone on base can hop on the white, air-conditioned shuttle bus. No identification card is required for boarding, but an ID card must be presented at the crossing of the base’s back gate.

The shuttle runs every half hour for two hours in the morning, two hours during lunchtime and two hours in the afternoon. It stops at most major facilities on base — India Basin docks, Galaxies, Fleet Gym, the food court, Fleet Landing and the Harbor View Club.

During the first weeks of the pilot program, the shuttle struggled to find riders despite hot weather that made long walks uncomfortable.

“We started slow, but the ridership has gone up,” said Lt. Marcelo Dijamco, the assistant base public works officer.

Enough people began riding the bus to convince the program manager in Yokosuka to green-light the transportation for a year, Dijamco said.

About 25 people rode the shuttle each day during the initial start-up. Ridership more than doubled by the end of the month, climbing to an average of 56 per day, said Russell Messer, base transportation director.

There are no changes in shuttle scheduling or stops, but the base transportation department will continue to review the service for possible adjustments, Messer said.

During October, the midday run was the most popular and averaged 17 passengers per day, according to ridership data provided by the base transportation department.

The 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. service was the least-popular shuttle shift and averaged about seven passengers per day, the data shows.

The other shifts are 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.The general popularity of the base shuttle will keep it operating through the current fiscal year, which ends in September 2008, Dijamco said.

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