For the first time, free buses at Grand Canyon National Park will run more than not.

The expansion of bus service along the Canyon's south rim also means that the park's West Rim Drive and Yaki Point roads will be closed to traffic more than they are open during 1998.Starting Friday, the park's free bus service began running every day for a scheduled 220 days, through Oct. 18. That's 35 days more than last year. Buses also will make more frequent stops, reducing waits. And more buses will be powered by electricity or natural gas, reducing pollution.

It's all part of the National Park Service moves to eventually eliminate most private and commercial automobiles along the Canyon's popular south rim.

Visitors to the 79-year-old park soared to more than 5 million people for the first time last year, aggravating parking and noise problems in a place idolized for its silence and isolation.

As early as 2001, visitors will park their cars at Tusayan, 7 miles south of the rim, and ride a light-rail train into the park. From two train terminals in the park, visitors will take buses, walk or ride bikes to visit the canyon overlooks along both the East and West Rim drives.

This is the second year that Yaki Point, the trail head of the South Kaibab Trail, will be closed to automobiles. Buses between Grand Canyon Village and Yaki Point will run every half-hour, starting one hour before sunrise and continuing until one hour after sunset. A taxi service is available for hikers who want to be at the trail head earlier or later than that.

Buses will run within Grand Canyon Village every 10 to 30 minutes from 6:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Buses will run between the village and West Rim Drive every 10 to 30 minutes, from 7:30 a.m. until sunset. More than 60 million people have boarded the park's free buses since they began operations on the West Rim Drive in 1974.

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