Butler County RTA makes temporary bus fare suspension permanent

The Butler County Regional Transit Authority board has cancelled all fixed route fares permanently.  NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
The Butler County Regional Transit Authority board has cancelled all fixed route fares permanently. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Middletown officials, however, must decide if their routes will also be fare-free, said BCRTA officials.

The Butler County Regional Transit Authority voted this week to eliminate all fixed-route bus fares, a practice that was initially prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The initial suspension was put into place to reduce contact between riders and drivers and to reduce some of the financial hardships many in the community were facing due to the pandemic.

“We’re excited to be able to eliminate fixed-route fares for our passengers and communities. In addition to eliminating transportation barriers for riders, this move will also reduce costly expenses for managing the revenue collection process,” Executive Director Matthew Dutkevicz said.

The fare elimination also applies to its Americans with Disabilities paratransit service, known as ADA or BCARE. That service is available to individuals that have a certified disability that prevents them from using the regular fixed routes.

The fares for the fixed routes in Middletown, however, are still in place unless city officials follow suit.

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Dutkevicz told the Journal-News they only collect about $60,000 annually from the fixed-route fares, and the bulk of their funding comes from other sources. Expenses for the transit authority are $6.6 million. Revenues are at $7.9 million with $3.2 million in federal grants, $1.8 million from Middletown, $1.5 million from Miami University and a few other sources.

BCRTA will continue to charge $5 for its door-to-door Uber-type service, a program they are trying to grow.

Dutkevicz said another reason the trustees decided to cancel the fares was the federal government was frowning on the fact some areas of the county were getting a free ride even before the pandemic hit.

“Part of the decision to make all the fixed routes fare-free was the feds had been pressuring us a little bit because Miami pays for their services; students, faculty and staff didn’t pay to ride the bus up there,” he said.

Dutkevicz said the no-fare model will also further the board’s goal to help the local economy. BCRTA has been working to expand routes to help get more people to work, enlarging their coverage by adding the “R-6 — Job Connector” in April 2016. It provided 7,361 rides in 2019, and 5,271 rides through October this year.

“Getting people to work and connecting people to jobs is also a strategic objective of the BCRTA Board. This was another major consideration in eliminating fixed-route fare,” Dutkevicz said. “We want to eliminate as many barriers to people traveling and getting to work as possible. We also want to provide an asset to employers, particularly when companies are examining Butler County for their home or relocation from another area.”

BCRTA Board President Chris Lawson echoed the sentiment.

“This is a bold regional statement pertaining to our seriousness in addressing inequality, carbon emissions and enhancing workforce availability,” said Lawson said. “My hope is others would follow our example.”

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