A new “hardship program” was launched as part of the Collin County Transit.

The taxi-voucher service provides transportation to people that qualify as low income, elderly or disabled for a fee based on distance traveled.

Now people facing particular crisis situations, such as homelessness or unemployment among other circumstances, could qualify for free rides under the new hardship program.This originally came as a suggestion from the McKinney Urban Transit District board during a Nov. 13 board meeting as a way to allow more people in need of transportation to qualify for the service.

The McKinney Urban Transit District board is made up of a handful of McKinney City Council members and representatives from Celina, Lowery Crossing, Princeton, Melissa and Prosper. This board makes transit decisions and handles transit funding for participating cities.

The board set aside $270,000 for the implementation of the hardship program during the November board meeting, and on Feb. 4, the board officially approved it as a 12-month pilot program.

The MUTD pays 75% of the cost for rides, and riders are usually responsible for paying the remaining 25%. But with the hardship program, rides will be free.

It plans to do this by partnering with five area nonprofits or social service agencies that will sponsor up to 10 riders each and pay for their portion of trips. The MUTD will still pay for the remaining 75%.

These agencies, once approved by the MUTD board, will also be responsible for intake, eligibility checks, case management and trip verification for each rider.

Several local organizations have already expressed an interest, including Grace to Change, All Community Outreach, Community Lifeline Center, Assistance Center of Collin County, Hope Clinic, Community Health Clinic and Samaritan Inn.

Once the list is narrowed down to five agencies, the program will officially be rolled out, said Janay Tieken, McKinney Housing & Community Development manager. This could be as early as March.