Montgomery County, Alexandria talking free transit plans

Lawmakers in several portions of the D.C. region are discussing plans to temporarily or indefinitely make mass transit free, supported by healthy budgets held up by the COVID-19 relief bills.

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Montgomery County announced Tuesday it would scrap plans to begin charging fares again on its Ride On bus system, which were set to be collected April 5. Instead, fares will remain free at least until the end of June.

The announcement came after advocacy from the county council, which signed a letter unanimously to support extending the free bus rides.

County Executive Marc Elrich said, "As our residents will need bus service to receive vaccines that become more readily available over the next few months, I am pleased that we will be extending free Ride On bus service until the end of June. The County Council and I are on the same page and understand how important this free service is to our residents during this difficult time."

At-Large Councilmember Evan Glass says he sees the move as helping create equity as well as supporting low-income residents to use transit to get to vaccine appointments, citing the forthcoming opening of the county’s mass vaccination site in Germantown.

Meanwhile in Alexandria, Mayor Justin Wilson, is in the process of preparing a budget proposal which would make the city’s DASH transit service free, costing the city an estimated $1.7 million.

Wilson says if it remains in the budget adopted in May, the free service would start September 1, in time for the launch of a redesigned route system.

Loudoun County Supervisor Mike Turner, who represents the Ashburn District has also recently proposed free Metro rides on the Silver Line, once new stations are completed, to boost ridership, although Metro has yet to comment on the specific idea.

In a statement to FOX 5 Metro said it is open to discussing fare policy.

DASH said in a statement:

"The DASH Board of Directors is scheduled to discuss the question and the possibility of fare-free service at the April 14 meeting. DASH is closely following the City’s budget process, and any funds that can be directed toward the improvement or expansion of public transit are needed now more than ever."