TURLOCK -- Chris Aguiniga didn't really want to go to the fair this year.
Between the cost of admission, paying for parking and leading his family across a dusty lot, the longtime fairgoer and father of two wasn't looking forward to his annual visit to the Stanislaus County Fair.
Then he heard about the fair's new park-and-ride option and figured they'd give it a try.
"I've been going to the fair probably for about 30 years," he said. "I experienced it with my parents, and we've taken the kids (now 9 and 11) since they were little."
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He's an enthusiastic supporter of the free shuttle buses. And, more important to the fair's bottom line, he's now planning a return trip before the fair ends its 10-day run Sunday.
"I really wasn't too enthused about going to the fair this year," he said. "You pay for parking and it's a long walk, dusty and dirty."
The buses, which pick up and drop off riders at parking lots on the campuses of Pitman High School and California State University, Stanislaus, operate every 15 to 20 minutes. The service is costing the fair $30,000 for buses and staff.
Aguiniga called the program "very convenient. It made things a lot easier."
Joyce Smith is another fan.
The Modesto woman talked her party of four -- "all 65-plus" -- into trying the shuttle service. They parked at CSU, Stanislaus.
"It was absolutely wonderful," she said. "We're older, and one of the things we don't like to do is go park on uneven surfaces."
Fair spokeswoman Pennie Rorex said the program has been enthusiastically received, with 800 riders Saturday night alone.
On Monday evening, about 40 people rode a bus from CSU, Stanislaus; the bus was nearly full on a return trip a few hours later.
"In years gone by, we'd have been traipsing through the parking lot," Smith said. "But we just had to walk outside, sit down and enjoy the breeze while we waited about 10 minutes."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.