Athens-Clarke County commissioners had their first look at a proposal Tuesday that would allow people between the ages of 5 through 17-years-old to ride public transit in Athens for free.
“The proposal for making Athens Transit free for young people on a year-round basis comes as a wildly successful summer program offering no-fare rides to young people ages 5-17 is drawing to a close,” the ABH reports. “That pilot program, approved in April by Athens-Clarke’s mayor and commission, will end on Aug. 9, the first day of school for Clarke County School District students. The program began on May 20, as Clarke schools began their summer break, and Athens Transit has seen a massive increase in youth ridership, according to Athens Transit Director Butch McDuffie.”
McDuffie commented in a recent interview that ridership in that age range went from 40 to about 250 since implementing the free-ride program.
Athens Transit’s latest figures show a daily average of 340 young people taking advantage of the free program.
“According to a report from McDuffie and Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams scheduled for commission review at their 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting at City Hall, providing free rides for young people on a year-round basis will result in a projected loss of $40,000 in farebox revenue,” the article reads. “The report to commissioners indicates Athens Transit will work to reduce expenses to help cover the farebox loss, but warns the county might also need to dip into the contingency funds in this year’s budget to cover the anticipated revenue shortfall.”
Mayor Nancy Denson reportedly suggested Friday that Athens Transit might recoup some of the anticipated farebox losses when parents join their children on excursions around town and that it may enable families to use Athens Transit for various family activities that might otherwise be out of reach financially.
“The year-round youth ridership proposal comes from the Athens Community Partnership for Youth Development, an initiative which includes representation from the local government that is aimed at keeping young people from joining gangs and engaging in criminal activity,” the article reads. “Providing free rides to the community’s young people would, Denson said Friday, allow them easier access to constructive recreational activities, including the Athens-Clarke County Library.”
Should the commission decide on Tuesday to add the proposal to the agenda for its upcoming meeting, a final decision on the proposal could come on Aug. 2.