Months after implementing a summer pilot program offering free rides to students on buses and MetroRail, Capital Metro made the successful program permanent Dec. 5.
The Kids Ride Free program launched in June along with the Cap Remap bus service changes and offered free rides for K-12 students in the transit agency’s service area, which includes the cities of Austin, Leander and Manor.
Students can ride any of Capital Metro’s services for free, including MetroAccess, which provides service for residents with disabilities. Students will need a valid ID, and Capital Metro is working on creating cards for students.
“It’s a great thing for our city,” said Delia Garza, a Capital Metro board member and District 2 Austin City Council member. “Parents don’t have to worry about getting their kids to school.”
Originally the goal of the pilot program was to encourage families to explore Austin in the summertime and continue learning time, Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz said at a May news conference.
However, based on positive feedback from the program, Capital Metro extended the pilot through early December before deciding to make it permanent. An estimated 643,861 free rides were provided to students in June through October, according to Capital Metro. The agency estimates it will cost between $250,000 and $300,000 in lost revenue each year to continue the program.
Garza said the board is considering asking Austin City Council to amend an ordinance to allow Capital Metro to seek advertising opportunities at bus stops in the city’s right of way. This could bring in an estimated $200,000 per year. The board is scheduled to discuss the item at its Dec. 17 meeting.
Amber Elenz, the District 5 trustee for the Austin ISD board of trustees, said she served on District 5 City Council Member Ann Kitchen’s Mobility Transformation Advisory Committee looking at how to address transportation challenges from Austin’s growth.
“Work like this that is happening today is so important for our kids but also for our city,” she said.
She said AISD aims to “reinvent the urban school experience.”
“This is another example where our partners are helping us do that,” she said.
Garza said she has also received overwhelmingly positive feedback from constituents in her district on the impact of the pilot program.
“In District 2 families are working hard to be able to stay here in Austin, and they can’t always provide that ride to after-school activities,” she said.
The program has helped students get to school and jobs as well as volunteer projects.
An added benefit of the program could be seen in the longer term of getting children used to taking public transit.
“It’s so important to get children on our public transit soon,” Garza said. “We cannot be [focusing]on single-occupancy vehicles anymore. The quicker that we can show young people that Capital Metro is efficient and can get them to where they need to go the quicker we help to alleviate some of our congestion issues.”