Montgomery County’s new $1 bus fare goes into effect in July
With the new fare, the county ends a long-standing tradition of following Metro’s fare policy — Metrobus riders pay $2 to ride — while bringing itself more in line with what other transit systems of the region’s bill, such as Prince George’s County TheBus and the CC Circulator.
The county council debated for months whether to keep public buses free or adopt a lower fare, citing a desire to make the system more affordable and accessible to residents. The panel voted in favor of County Executive Marc Elrich (D)’s proposal to lower the fare to $1, an option his administration called “cost-effective” and would provide financial assistance to passengers.
“$1 is better than $2 and it will relieve those who depend on our buses,” said council vice chairman Evan Glass (D-At Large), a proponent of free travel. “We are making progress and moving forward on the right path to real equity in public transit. »
Since the start of the pandemic, several bus systems in the region have reviewed fares to tackle income inequality and racial disparities as they try to bring passengers back.
Alexandria’s DASH bus system became free last fall. Prince George riders saw bus fares drop from $1.25 to $1 a year ago. Fairfax and Arlington counties are considering programs to subsidize fares for low-income passengers.
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In Montgomery, proponents of a free ride and lower fares cited a ride equity study that found the median household income of Ride On passengers is $35,000, well below the county average of $108,820. According to the report, two-thirds of Ride On passengers do not own a car.
Under the new structure, express routes that charged $4.25 before the pandemic will also see their fares reduced to $1, while the cost of a monthly pass will drop from $45 to $22.50.
Chris Conklin, director of the county’s Department of Transportation, said reinstating a lower fare ensures the transit service has a significant source of revenue and “would benefit as many people as possible”.
“With this decision, Montgomery County residents will benefit from stable transit funding and the burden of transportation costs is cut in half for all of our customers,” he said. “The dollar fare leaves the door open to coordinate a needs-based bus fare program for the entire region.”
The board had voiced support for keeping the system free earlier this month, but as it moved to approve the budget, the panel was unable to find the nearly $10 million which he would need to keep Ride On free during the exercise which starts July 1. The budget proposed by Elrich included the $1 fare.
Montgomery County was one of the few suburban transit systems that maintained free bus service more than two years after the start of the pandemic. In early 2020, Washington-area bus systems suspended fare collection for months to keep passengers away from bus drivers due to coronavirus risks, but most have resumed fare collection.
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Glass said the pricing policy is intended to support residents who depend on the service, many of whom have continued to work in essential jobs during the pandemic. He said the transit agency – which has the second-highest number of bus riders in the region after Metrobus – also hopes to attract more passengers amid increased telecommuting.
“If we’re going to support public transit, we need to reduce barriers to ridership, and reduced or free fares are the best way to do that,” Glass said.