An Athens Transit bus drives down South Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. (Photo/Caitlin Jett, caitie.jett@gmail.com)

Starting July 1, senior citizens, people with disabilities and government employees can ride the Athens-Clarke County fixed-route transit service for free in an effort to push Athens towards its 100% renewable energy goals.

“It was very much so an initiative from our elected officials. They are very supportive of our transit system. This is just another way to make it more accessible to more people,” ACC Transit Administrative Director Butch McDuffie said.

The ACC Transit department operates a fixed-route service and paratransit service. While the paratransit service provides individual transportation for those who cannot use the fixed-route services, the fixed-route transit service acts as a city bus.

ACC transit operates 20 routes, and 500 bus stops at varying times throughout the week. Routes operate throughout downtown, the University of Georgia, and from Lexington Road on the east side and Georgia Square Mall in the west to Athens Area Technical Institute up North and south on Macon Highway. From the time they enter to the time they exit, the fixed-route transit serves 1.6 million riders annually, McDuffie said.

Youth (under 18) ride for free and Adults (18-64) pay $1.75 for a single trip. Senior citizens (65 and older) and disabled individuals pay 85 cents to $1 for a single ride under the half-fare program.

However, the disabled, the elderly are encouraged to use their remaining purchased tickets to get the most out of their money. Half-fare program is on the chopping block and set to be replaced by the fare-free initiative. To compensate for the lost revenue, the mayor and commission will give $94,000 to the transit department from the ACC general fund.

All eligible individuals, who don’t have another form of government issued ID, will receive identification cards to ride fare-free after they present the necessary documents.

“Providing transit support for these additional riders adds significant value to our community,” Mayor Kelly Girtz said in an ACC press release. “Those who have been isolated or challenged by mobility needs will be able to readily access resources throughout the community, and Athens-Clarke County employees will be able to heighten their advocacy for transit while freeing-up key parking locations.”

District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson has been pushing for fare-free transit since he was President of Athens for Everyone. In his 2013 mayoral campaign, Denson promised to provide fare-free transit for all Athens residents, not just the disabled and senior citizens and government employees.

“I believe all people have the right to mobility and Athens-Clarke County has this invaluable tool in Athens Transit to guarantee that right,” Denson said.

Denson also supports the initiative because it helps move Athens-Clarke County towards 100% renewable energy goals, decreasing car accidents as well as air pollution and decreasing road congestion. Denson also believes providing fare-free transit will help Athens become more “economically equitable” by assisting people in taking advantage of job and educational opportunities.

Denson aims to expand the initiative in the coming years. Next year, he hopes the initiative will provide fare-free service for all individuals during the weekends, with the ultimate goal of having the transit system be completely free for all Athenians.

“We have this robust transit system that can really be a very effective tool to help tackle economic issues that we are dealing with here,” Denson said.

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