This has been quite a year for Nadine Babu. First she was named Woman of the Year by the Minnesota Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

On Thursday, she was honored as the 3 billionth customer to ride Metro Transit buses and trains. At a ceremony at the Uptown Transit Center in Minneapolis, Babu, 34, of St. Louis Park, received a card that will allow her to take all the free bus rides she wants for a year.

It's an ideal gift for someone who has been a loyal bus rider since 1996. "I love not having to pay for parking," she said. "I can put on makeup, text, Facebook. I like the camaraderie on the bus."

Nobody knows for sure if Babu was the specific rider who pushed the transit agency over the big milestone, but she was the winner of a contest to pick the 3 billionth rider.

A team of transit agency employees judged Babu's story about the time she was razzed by fellow passengers for wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey to a Vikings-Bears game two years ago at the Metrodome during a snowstorm as the most creative and exceptional entry.

Ironically, as winner of the Leukemia Society's highest honor for raising more than $37,000 for blood cancer research, Babu got her face on scores of advertisements for the society that appear on Metro Transit buses. It's only a coincidence that she won the transit contest entered by more than 100 people, said General Manager Brian Lamb.

Metro Transit was formed in 1967 when it began acquiring many of the routes operated by local bus companies. It started service in 1972 at the Metropolitan Transit Commission and reached 1 billion rides in 1984. It hit 2 billion in 1999.

An average of 260,000 people board Metro Transit buses and trains each day and more than 76 million ride annually, Lamb said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768 Twitter: @timstrib