After more than 300,000 people rode the ION for free during its first week, the Region of Waterloo says rides continued to climb system-wide even after people had to pay.

The region says that ridership growth could be due to several factors but the biggest, of course, is the trains.

"Certainly people were more interested when it came out, saw that it was new, it was free," says Peter Zinck, director of transit for the Region of Waterloo. "We had more riders. We're back down to our regular service in the summer."

The region does its comparisons year over year. Two big differences from then to now are the trains and the routes along the cores.

The region saw roughly 63,000 more transit users through the first week of July over last year, a 14 percent increase. At $3.25 per ride, that's a cash value of more than $200,000.

Along the city cores, the change was even bigger: there have been 26 per cent more riders in the core through the first week of July compared to this time last year.

While ION-specific ridership dropped almost 50 per cent in the first week of paid daily service compared to the free 11 days, the region says that was expected.

"The free service was purely to give everybody an experience, whether or not they're going to be a future rider of transit or not," Regional Coun. Tom Galloway says.

Daily ridership since payment has been required has been sitting at around 14,000 people.

The next test for the ION will come in September, when 10 trains moving at 10-minute service intervals becomes 12 trains going every eight minutes to account for students.

Whether those students ride or not is another question, but they won't pay for service: they'll get a U-Pass by paying tuition.

Grand River Transit has a target of 27 million riders by 2021. Last year, they had just over 20 million.