Gainesville city commissioners voted Thursday to apply for a federal grant that could contribute to providing free rides for everyone on Regional Transit System buses.
Within two minutes of the agenda item being introduced at Thursday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to sign a resolution that is required to apply for federal aid. The money would be distributed by the Florida Department of Transportation in the form of a $200,000 grant.
In an interview with WUFT News, City Commissioner David Arreola said the city’s goal for the money is to increase RTS ridership. If it could achieve this, it would help fund a radical transformation in RTS services.
“What we’re looking to do is have fare-free riding for all of RTS,” Arreola said. An increase in ridership would lead to increased investment into RTS, which would justify a larger budget and expanded services, including fare-free riding, he added.
This wouldn’t be the first time the city moved to provide free fares for RTS riders.
The RTS launched its free fare pilot program on Oct. 1, 2021. The program made fares free for youths aged 17-and-under and seniors aged 66-and-over. It is scheduled to run until Sep. 30 this year.
According to a WCJB interview with City Commissioner Harvey Ward last year, the city had to combine its budget with Alachua County’s in order to come up with the funds for the pilot program. Arreola said the grant money would help take pressure off the city to fund RTS services.
Having access to free bus rides would most benefit people without access to their own car, said Arreola. A bus rider from the University of Florida thinks it would be great for RTS to offer free rides to more than just students and seniors.
“It’s good if they’re trying to make it a fare-free system not just for students, but also for people who work,” said freshman Bianca Fleuriot.
Fleuriot, 18, said she rides the bus three or four times per week. She doesn’t own a car, so the bus is her only way to get to class or to get around anywhere else. Because of this, she understands how important it is for people to have access to public transportation.
Fleuriot said having a fare-free system would help people out because, “at times, it can be very hard to not have the funds just to get on the bus.”