Fairfax County favors another year of free Metrobus rides for some students

A file photo of a Metrobus in the D.C. area. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Some high school students in Virginia’s Fairfax County will get to ride Metrobus for free again next school year, under a county recommendation.

Students at Justice High School have been eligible this school year for free rides on Metrobus routes in addition to the free Fairfax Connector trips that all county middle school and high school students are eligible for.

A review of the trial program — which limits students from using them in D.C. or Maryland and prevents them from using the passes overnight — finds the 35% of Justice students who have a Metrobus-enabled pass have taken more than 32,000 Metrobus trips this year.

Students most commonly use Route 28A, which runs past the school from King Street to Tysons.

A survey of students suggests that the free bus pass is useful not only if they miss the school bus but also for getting to after-school jobs or weekend events.

About 30% of students said they never or rarely use their pass; about 60% said they use it at least once a week.

The county is recommending a one-year extension of the Metrobus pass with Justice High School only.

For the following school year, 2020-2021, the county plans to consider expanding the Metrobus passes to Annandale High School, Marshall High School or Falls Church High School, because those schools have Metrobus service but limited Fairfax Connector service.

Besides the direct impact of helping students get around, the SmarTrip-based pass allows school administrators to disable and replace cards that are lost or stolen. School officials can also view the trips taken by users.

The county hopes encouraging teens to take the bus creates long-term transit users who will feel more comfortable riding the bus, which could help cut down on long-term traffic.

A similar D.C. Kids Ride Free program provides D.C. students with free Metrobus and rail rides paid for by the District government. Montgomery County allows students free rides on its local Ride On system at certain times as well.

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