Free fares: Middletown bus riders will continue to travel at no cost in 2021

Middletown City Council Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, approved the continuation of free fares in 2021. The city-owned buses are operated by Butler County Regional Transit Authority. Earlier this year as the COVID-19 outbreak began, the local transit system went to a fare less system to help people experiencing financial hardships to get around. It also promoted safety as the drivers did not have to touch fares and limited the contact with passengers. FILE 

The city of Middletown is getting a $3.9 million grant from the federal government for transit operation, maintenance and other expenses during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Butler County Regional Transit Authority provides operational transportation services for the City of Middletown called Middletown Transit Services. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
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Middletown City Council Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, approved the continuation of free fares in 2021. The city-owned buses are operated by Butler County Regional Transit Authority. Earlier this year as the COVID-19 outbreak began, the local transit system went to a fare less system to help people experiencing financial hardships to get around. It also promoted safety as the drivers did not have to touch fares and limited the contact with passengers. FILE The city of Middletown is getting a $3.9 million grant from the federal government for transit operation, maintenance and other expenses during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Butler County Regional Transit Authority provides operational transportation services for the City of Middletown called Middletown Transit Services. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Riders who use the Middletown Transit Service buses won’t have to worry about exact change in 2021 as routes will be operated fare-free in 2021.

The local transit system, which is operated by the Butler County Regional Transit Authority, opted to stop collecting fares on all routes earlier this year to limit contact in touching and counting fares as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

BCRTA and the city transit systems also went to the fare-free rides to reduce obligations for citizens experiencing financial hardship during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, council approved an emergency ordinance to permit the city transit system to operate fare free in 2021.

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Matt Dutkevicz, BCRTA executive director, said the BCRTA Board of Trustees already approved going fare-free on fixed routes in the system and requested that Middletown adopt this for its local bus routes.

Susan Cohen, city administrative director, said this would reduce barriers to ridership, promote health and safety and help those who are struggling financially.

Dutkevicz said fare revenue is traditionally 6% of the total revenue for Middletown Transit.

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Cohen said continuing without fares can be paid for with grant funding and CARES Act funding. She said this would not affect on demand rider services, but would only affect the fixed route operations and Disability ADA operations.

She said council can choose to return to the fare system or reduce the fares in the future.