TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County’s youths are about to get a free ticket to ride on Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) buses.

TCAT’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution at their March meeting to establish a year-round free “youth pass program” that will give people ages 17-and-under free rides on the bus service.

Laura Lewis, Chair of the TCAT Board of Directors and Acting Mayor of the City of Ithaca, said that the program was motivated by the desire to build the next generation of transit riders, and enable independence among youths.

“Parents can know that their kids can have a free bus ride to a summer job[…] or wherever they may want to travel to and it’s developing the next generation of transit riders,” said Lewis.

Lewis emphasized how the program “youth pass program” is also inherently in-line with TCAT’s sustainability initiatives.

“It cuts down on reliance on vehicles,” said Lewis. “And cuts down on reliance on parents.”

Previously, TCAT charged youth ages 6 to 17 a half-fare, or $0.75 per ride. Making rides free for ages 17 and under is projected to have a minimal impact on TCAT’s finances, costing it around $30,000 annually, or less than 1% of its annual fair revenue; a pittance considering TCAT’s $16M yearly operating budget.

TCAT expects that this lost fare revenue will be partially, if not completely offset by the increased State Transportation Operating Assistance which the increased ridership will make it eligible for.

The program was crafted by TCAT in collaboration with Tompkins County Youth Services, and Ithaca Youth Bureau’s Youth Employment Services. TCAT intends to work with local school districts to distribute the bus passes.

TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool commented to The Ithaca Voice that there are a lot of logistics to work out still, communication that needs to happen between the parties involved, but “this project has some great components to it, including the idea of students as future TCAT riders and getting used to using public transit, and learning how it will benefit our environment.  We are very excited.”

The bus program will come into effect with TCAT’s 2022 Summer Service Period, on May 29.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn