The Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA) made its Regional, Middletown and Oxford/Miami University bus routes free for all riders this year.
The BCRTA Board of Trustees decided to eliminate the fare for all as it was a barrier to collect it from community members: the money collected did not create a large enough dent to pay for transportation costs and upkeep. This idea has been under consideration since March 2019.
In addition to budgetary issues, when COVID-19 hit, social distancing and providing safe travel for the community mattered, leading BCRTA’s Board of Trustees to pass a resolution at the end of 2020 to eliminate the community-based fare.
According to the BCRTA website, three types of transit offered are: fixed route, American Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit and BGo curb-to-curb. ADA paratransit is for passengers with disabilities who are unable to ride fixed routes, in accordance with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. BGo curb-to-curb provides curb-to-curb service, where individuals can schedule a pickup and drop-off.
Matthew Dutkevicz, executive director of BCRTA, said the change applies to two of their three service types: fixed route and ADA paratransit.
“We are the first transit in the state to do this,” Dutkevicz said, “and we are excited about it.”
Miami University senior and early childhood education major Micayla Veenaman is a frequent rider of BCRTA and said it makes life on campus easier.
“It would certainly be beneficial for the community as it makes the campus and Butler County more accessible for students and families,” Veenaman said. “Financially, it would be a huge bonus … community members and families wouldn’t have to worry about finding rides.”
Many Miami University students and community members utilize the transportation system. However, there are monetary restrictions for BCRTA.
“Transportation is expensive,” Dutkevicz said. “You have to keep in mind insurance and maintenance … but it takes about $77 an hour to operate the system.”
Much of BCRTA’s annual funding comes from Miami — about $1.7 million comes from student fees.
“Miami is a large portion of ridership,” Dutkevicz said. “We have more than six thousand rides a year, and Miami is more than half of that. We would get $6,000 in fare from this, but decided it wasn’t worth it to collect it.”
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BCTRA only receives token money from the City of Oxford, Prytherch, Oxford city councilor, said.
The rest of their money, for routes outside of Oxford, is made through grants and funds from the City of Oxford. This year, BCRTA received about $2 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s 5339 Bus and Bus Facilities Program.
According to Prytherch, the city budgeted $10,000 to support fare reduction and improvements to bus stations, especially by Kroger.
Miami University and BCRTA have a contract to provide free fixed route, paratransit and SafeRide services through 2023 to students and staff, according to BCRTA’s website.
“Miami University pays into a public system,” Prytherch said. “Students and staff get a better transit system, and there is a transit system for the community.”
“Decades ago, students at Miami University advocated for a transit system on and around [the campus],” Prytherch said. “The buses were funded with student [tuition] fees.”
Until this January, community members had to pay to ride the buses, whereas Miami students would use their ID card to pay for their trip.
“The wave of the future is free transit. Other places are offering free transit, like Luxembourg,” Prytherch said. “The City of Oxford wants to better partner with BCRTA to better the community.”