Need A Ride? RTA Bus System Is Now Fare-Free


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For the first time ever, HCC students can ride RTA for free throughout the academic year.

Aaron Sorak

Ever need to go somewhere from HCC but don’t feel like driving? The Regional Transportation Agency (RTA) of Central Maryland is now offering fare-free rides for HCC students on all their bus routes.

The Howard County Government announced that all RTA fixed-route and paratransit rides will be free for everyone until the end of October. Additionally, HCC students can now ride RTA at no cost through the end of summer next year using an HCC ID card. The update serves as an expansion to the year-round free RTA Buss Pass Program that was available only to Howard County Public School System middle and high school students last year.

RTA lines run all around Columbia and Ellicott City and can be a convenient way to get from point A to point B. In a video announcement released Aug. 26, Howard County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball said, “Reliable and accessible transportation in our community will always be a priority.”

The RTA faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic but is now making strides towards returning stronger than ever. Along with the new fare-free feature, the agency is adding 11 new buses to the service and new routes to Catonsville.

The news comes as a surprise for many reasons. Public transportation all around the country charges fares to finance operations, so free rides sound like a great idea to increase accessibility for public transportation. However, when asked for his thoughts on the fare-free program, first-semester student Sam Nixon said, “I didn’t even know there was a bus system.”

First-semester student Lauren Vane echoed this sentiment, noting, “Just because it’s free doesn’t make it useful.” In a populous suburban community like Columbia, most residents and HCC students have access to a car to get around.

The Transit mobile app—which allows RTA riders to plan, track and pay for their trip on the same platform—can unfortunately be difficult to navigate, and the buses don’t always run a reliable schedule. Mechanical failures often cause major interruptions to local service routes, as can be seen from the RTA Service Alerts Twitter page.

Public transportation remains a hot topic all around the country as of late, and accessibility is a major issue. The RTA of Central Maryland has already made a significant portion of its fleet gas-free, and adding this fare-free feature is another important piece of the accessibility puzzle.

HoCo continues to take steps in the right direction with this newly expanded transportation initiative. Here’s to hoping for an even better, more accessible future.