This story was updated at 12:50 p.m. May 19, 2022, to include comment from Evan Glass.
The County Council switched Thursday from its preliminary position that Ride On bus rides would be free for a year — agreed that fares should be $1 per ride beginning in July.
Last week, council members voted 7-1 to make Ride On free through June 2023, while leaving Metrobus routes at $2 per fare, as part of their deliberations on the proposed fiscal 2023 operating budget. County Executive Marc Elrich had proposed $1 Ride On fares and $2 Metrobus fares in his $6.3 billion operating budget.
Elrich had previously told Bethesda Beat he wasn’t comfortable making Ride On free because he wasn’t sure if federal money — which had been subsidizing the county to allow for free fares — would continue. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ride On fare cost $2 per ride.
County Council staff had recommended that the council adopt $1.50 fares for both Ride On and Metrobus, which would have meant the county would have to subsidize WMATA to help reduce Metrobus fares. Council Member Hans Riemer favored this approach, stating at a meeting last week that many residents in the county use Metrobus along some of the busiest corridors.
But he was outvoted 2-1 by his fellow members of the Transportation and Environment committee, Council Vice President Evan Glass and Council Member Tom Hucker, at a committee meeting earlier in the budget process. Despite this, Riemer voted to approve the council’s fare proposal last week. Council Member Craig Rice voted against, because he agreed with Riemer that requiring Metrobus riders to pay $2 while Ride On would be free would not be an equitable approach.
Those decisions ultimately didn’t matter, as the council decided to follow Elrich’s recommendation. However, nothing is official until the council votes to approve a budget next week.
Glass said in an interview that he wished Ride On could remain free, but that there weren’t the resources in the budget to make it happen this year. He added that money in the budget goes to other social services, including the expansion of early childhood education, more healthly food access for low-income families, and services to end and prevent homelessness.
The council vice president said that if he’s re-elected later this year, he would make free Ride On service a high priority for the next budget cycle. He said that $1 fares are half the price of what bus service cost residents before the pandemic.
“As a frequent transit rider, I want to make sure we expand ridership … it’s a slow march, but we’re on the right track,” Glass said.
But along with the single fare prices, Ride On monthly passes were reduced from the pre-pandemic price of $45 to $22.50. Children 18 and under ride free, and seniors and residents with disabilities ride for free during a majority of operating hours during the week.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org