College students and area youth will soon be able to ride the bus for free.

The Riverside Transit Agency’s (RTA) Board of Directors has approved a plan that grants free rides to any youth 18 and under as well as students at Cal Baptist University, La Sierra University, Moreno Valley College, Mt. San Jacinto College, Norco College, Riverside City College and UC Riverside. The program, which is funded by a state grant, begins August 1 and is expected to last until next July.
 
RTA officials are hopeful the free rides will propel declining ridership that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic. May ridership was down 67 percent compared to the same month a year ago. 
 
A free-ride program that includes both college students and area youth has been a longtime goal for RTA Chair Bridgette Moore. “As the state moves toward a new normalcy and more people begin riding public transportation, we are optimistic that these free rides will go a long way in generating interest among our youngest customers,” Moore said. “RTA has a proud history of serving students and young riders and this is an exciting move in a new direction.” 
 
To ride, students at participating colleges will use a free mobile ticketing app. Youth 18 and under will need to show valid ID to the driver. Once aboard, they can ride anywhere RTA buses go, anytime they operate. 
 
The opportunity is provided through a Low Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP) air quality grant that provides public transit funding assistance for projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve mobility. 
 
This won’t be the first time college students and area youth get free bus rides.  
 
Since 2006, RTA has partnered with area colleges, including those mentioned above, to provide unlimited rides to students who use their ID to ride. The program has been a hit. Last year, RTA buses logged 1.4 million student boardings, up six percent compared to the previous year. Beginning in August, these popular student-ride programs will be funded, at least temporarily, by the new state grant instead of by student fees or by the colleges themselves.  
 
RTA has also had plenty of success attracting youth riders thanks largely to a promotion that offered 25-cent rides during summer and winter school breaks. The program has pushed ridership among middle and high school students to new levels. Last year, RTA buses carried a record 214,000 youth boardings, a 10 percent increase from the previous year, and 25 percent higher than two years ago.  
 
RTA has taken strong steps to maintain service and public safety during the coronavirus pandemic, including routinely disinfecting buses, rear door boardings, requiring employees and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing while onboard.  
 
“Whether it’s a trip to a friend’s house, part-time job or school, we are thrilled to offer this great incentive to our youngest customers,” Moore said. “With helpful drivers and a safe environment — and now free rides — RTA is a great option for young travelers headed to destinations near and far.”