Youth Ride On usage has surged since Kids Ride Free expansion
Students represent 10% of total customers
This story and headline were updated at 11:30 p.m. Jan. 26, 2020. A previous version incorrectly described the increase in usage as doubling.
Six months after the county government made Ride On and Metro bus services free for children, usage among people younger than 18 has surged.
At a County Council committee meeting on Thursday, new data showed that 657,543 children rode Ride On or Metrobus for free in the first six months of Fiscal Year 2019. More than 1 million children rode free during the same six-month period in Fiscal Year 2020, a 57% increase.
“The numbers are great, and it shows that when we expand access and opportunity to transit, people are going to take it,” Council Member Evan Glass said. Glass proposed the Kids Ride Free program expansion last year.
Before the County Council approved the expansion in July, students’ fares were waived only between 2 and 8 p.m.
Students represented about 10% of all customers in the first six months of the fiscal year. Without an increase in student ridership, the overall use of Ride On routes would have decreased, according to Dan Hibbert, chief of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s Division of Transit Services.
County officials estimate that the Kids Ride Free program costs about $1 million. During Thursday’s presentation to the council, officials said there have been “no major operational or crowding issues” since expanding Kids Ride Free.
“I think in the big picture, this is definitely a revenue positive for the county because we’re going to create more transit riders,” Council Member Hans Riemer said. “We’re creating people whose lifelong experience now is going to be different and they’re going to be forming attitudes about transit that will stick with them.”
Glass said the idea to expand Kids Ride Free came from a conversation with Clarksburg High School student Zoe Tishaev in December 2018. Tishaev, now a senior, “lamented about transit opportunities” Glass said, and the proposal was “a direct outgrowth of that conversation.”
In an interview on Friday afternoon, Tishaev said the program expands students’ access to internships and jobs they might not otherwise have been able to afford to commute to.
“Any time there’s a financial burden to get around, that has a serious impact and can have a serious deterrent effect on students to pursue opportunities,” Tishaev said. “Expanding access to youth, especially to vulnerable youth, is a commonsense measure.”
The next step, she said, is to ensure schools are near transit hubs so students, especially in the northeast section of the county, can use Kids Ride Free.
Council Member Craig Rice also emphasized a need for expanded Ride On bus routes.
“This is going to mean an even larger impetus to make sure we continue to expand Ride On routes,” Rice said. “Now that it’s free, a lot of people are going to want to use it more, so we need to look at those underserved areas and make sure we’re beefing them up.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org