County Considers Expanding Free Ride On Service for Students
Additional hours on weekends would cost about $1 million a year
The Montgomery County Council is considering expanding the “kids ride free” Ride On bus program to weekends to accommodate students who don’t drive and need transportation to work or socialize.
Students under 18 can ride the county-operated buses free between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays if they show a school ID or a Youth Cruiser SmarTrip card, which can be used on Metrobus and Metrorail.
At-large council member Evan Glass, who is urging the expansion of the 12-year-old program, said poverty numbers have risen considerably between 2004 and 2018, with the percentage of students receiving free-and-reduced meals rising from 23 percent to 35 percent.
The expanded program is estimated to cost about $1 million per year.
Glass, who was elected to the council in November, said that the first few conversations he had with constituents were with students without cars who are worried about getting to their jobs.
“What we know is transportation is the biggest factor in determining an individual’s financial health. Students need access to jobs and to be able to safely commute throughout our region. And providing them with free opportunities will expand their economic capacity,” he said.
Glass said access to public transportation needs vary by location, with those living in the eastern part of the county being less likely to own a car than families who live in Bethesda and Potomac.
“When students need to travel on their own, they are left to their own devices,” he said.
County school board member Rebecca Smondrowski said she has been pushing to expand transportation options for years and believes it would be worth trying the expanded Ride On service. The program has been key in helping underserved students with transportation, she said.
“With us having such a large population of students in poverty whose schools are not closer to their home, I felt this was an important thing for us to have to get kids to after-school programs,” she said.
During the council’s Transportation & Environment Committee meeting Thursday, high school students Victoria Koretsky, Talia Nesin and Itamar Fiorino advocated for expanded service.
In addition to expanding service to weekends and holidays, the students asked for an expansion of free hours to between noon and 10 p.m.
According to a poll the students took, 45 percent of those surveyed said they would use the Ride On during the expanded hours periods.
“It is mainly to adjust students to the aspect of public transportation, but it also has a functional element where students need to get places who don’t have cars,” said Fiorino, who attends Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
Glass has asked the county executive to include additional funding in his budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Ride On is the main transportation system operated by the county and serves as a supplement to Metrobus and Metrorail, which are part of the multi-jurisdictional Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com