Elimination of Kids Ride Free hurts teenagers

In response to the current economic recession and Montgomery County’s massive $1 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2010-2011, county executive Isiah Leggett has had to make millions of dollars in budget cuts.  However, he made the wrong decision this June when he decided to suspend the Kids Ride Free program for students who use Ride On and Metrobus.

The Kids Ride Free program previously allowed those 18 and under to ride the public buses for free between 2 and 7 p.m. everyday with a valid student ID.  While the program was obviously suspended with good intentions, Leggett has drastically hindered high school students’ ability to transport cheaply and easily from place to place.

Students used to be able to take public buses almost anywhere in the area.  Whether it was to and from school, to work, Montgomery or White Flint Mall, downtown Bethesda or even Rockville Town Center, many students knew they could get almost everywhere they needed to go for free without hassling parents or older siblings for rides.

Since the program was enacted in 2000, every Friday after school, one could always count on seeing dozens of students waiting in front of the school to squeeze onto the Route 38 bus which goes straight to Montgomery Mall or Wheaton.  This year, however, the bus stops are essentially barren and students are left without a simple, free way to get to their favorite hangout spot after school.

In addition to freezing the Kids Ride Free program, Leggett has also chosen to raise fares to $1.70, or $1.50 with a SmarTrip card, and suspend the Code Red program which allowed all riders to use the bus for free on days when pollution and humidity combined to produce dangerously high levels of smog.

Kids 18 and younger can still buy a Youth Cruiser Pass for $11 and have access to unlimited bus rides throughout the month.  However, the pass must be renewed monthly for it to work and is difficult to purchase since it is only available through mail and select locations.

According to a January 2008 Gazette article, the move only saves the county $25,000, a tiny fraction of the billion dollar deficit, so giving up free bus privileges seems like a steep price for local teens to pay.  Freezing the Kids Ride Free program does an unnecessary disservice to students and kids all over Montgomery County, considering it is only helping to save a miniscule amount of the county’s massive deficit.

Simply put, there are better ways that the county can save $25,000.  The county can make cuts in ways that do not directly harm teenagers who rely on public transportation everyday, not to mention their parents who are now on the hook to drive them wherever they need to go.

Not only does the suspension of the Kids Ride Free program affect students and parents all over the county, but the decision hurts the environment. Fewer people taking public transportation means more cars on the road, which ultimately results in more pollution in the atmosphere.

Though some teens were lucky enough to get their driver’s license before the suspension of the Kids Ride Free program, there are still thousands of local teens who are now stranded without an affordable option to get where they need to go.  They, in addition to the environment, have all been negatively impacted by a decision that was simply not worth the trouble.