Students get free bus rides through at least May
A new program from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority will give free rides on JTA buses and the First Coast Flyer system to all Duval County students in middle school and high school.
Starting Tuesday, the My Ride 2 School pilot program will offer students at Duval County public, private and charter schools unlimited trips at no charge between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding days when schools are closed for holidays or other reasons.
Students are required to present a valid school ID to be eligible for the ride.
"Students on board the JTA is nothing new. We've had a discounted student fare program for decades," JTA CEO Nat Ford said in a news conference at the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center on Monday. "We are basically now allowing you just to ride for free. That's the only difference. We anticipate an increase in ridership among our youth passengers."
Ford says the free trips aren't just between school and home. Students can use any bus or Flyer route. It's meant to give parents and students flexibility, allowing them to go to extracurricular activities off and on campus, and to after-school jobs.
If students need to travel outside of the 13-hour free-ride window, they still have access to reduced rates for students during regular bus hours, roughly 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.
According to Ford, the idea came from City Council Vice President Terrance Freeman. After looking into it, Ford realized that 34 of JTA's 36 bus routes run by Duval public schools.
"The actual cost really is minimal to the JTA because we're not adding any additional service to our current service levels, so we're using existing [routes] that we're providing on a daily basis and just offering it to the students to ride complimentary."
The My Ride 2 School pilot program will run through May 27 and is funded through the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year budget. Ford says when budgeting for next year, JTA's board will evaluate the costs and evaluate making the program permanent.
Duval Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene says the program won't interrupt school transportation, which the district spends about $65 million on.
"This new option for students will not impact that we still have a requirement to provide transportation services for any student that lives 2 miles outside of their attendance zone, " Greene said. "We have a very large magnet transportation and other options for our students. Those will not change."
While students are not required to wear masks on school buses or in the classroom, they will be required to do so while using JTA services. Under federal transportation guidelines, at least through March 18, all riders are required to wear masks on any JTA vehicle or inside any JTA facility.