Ride On and Flash bus service will remain free until at least the end of the fiscal year on June 30, County Executive Marc Elrich announced yesterday evening.
The change reverses a Department of Transportation decision released earlier this week to start charging $2 fares again on Monday, April 5. Fare collections had been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly after the DOT news was made public, Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) took to Twitter to express his opposition to the change.
I do not support the resumption of Ride On fare collection on April 5. We are still in a pandemic and those taking the bus are our front line personnel and our lowest income residents. They deserve better. https://t.co/VFUKUxHMPk
— Evan Glass (@EvanMGlass) March 29, 2021
All nine members of the council signed a letter March 29 urging the DOT to reconsider the fare decision. The letter noted that the mass vaccination site at the Montgomery College Germantown campus, due to become fully operational next week, was chosen at least in part because of Ride On access.
“While we are under a State of Emergency due to the pandemic, reintroducing fares is both poor timing and ignores the needs of our residents who currently rely on Ride On for their daily responsibilities and those who will rely on it to get vaccinated,” the letter said.
“We appreciate the important role Ride On has served during this pandemic, supporting our low-income residents who needed to get to work and daily errands despite the ongoing health crisis,” the council’s letter continued. “Fare-free service has saved these individuals hundreds of dollars in commuting costs at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet due to lost wages from pandemic-related closures.”
The council also pointed to a recent report from the Office of Legislative Oversight that found “47 percent of Ride On customers have a household income below $30,000 per year, 78 percent are people of color, and 42 percent speak a language other than English at home.”
In addition, many of these passengers work in jobs deemed essential, such as grocery store clerks and cleaning personnel.
“Many of our residents who rely on public transportation have been severely impacted economically by the pandemic, and we must continue to do everything we can to assist them to move around the County and region,” said Elrich in the announcement. “The County Council and I are on the same page and understand how important this free service is to our residents during this difficult time.”
Elrich also said that his decision took into account the funds the county expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan.
DOT still will implement boarding changes announced at the same time as the fare decision, allowing passengers to board buses by the front door as of April 5.