CO: Longmont Bus Passengers Welcome First Day of Free Rides

July 01--Several of the people waiting to board the Regional Transportation District's local Longmont bus routes on Tuesday morning hadn't yet heard that they wouldn't have to pay fares for their inside-the-city trips.

"That's awesome." said Jesse Van Eyck, who was catching a southbound 324 Route bus from a RTD bus stop on the 800 block of Coffman Street.

When told he wouldn't have to pay the normal $2.25 one-way fare to get to Second Avenue and Main Street before walking to his construction job site on Boston Avenue, Van Eyck said, "Oh my God, that's cool. You made my day."

Similarly surprised at the free-ride news were Jackie Lett and Annie Westbrook, who were waiting at Eighth Avenue and Coffman Street for a northbound Route 324 bus to get money orders from a King Soopers store on North Main Street before returning to the downtown area to pay bills.

"Oh, really? I think that's really cool," Lett said. "I didn't know about it."

Tuesday was the first day in what's to be at least a six-month-long program in which the RTD is providing free bus service to people within Longmont on the transit agency's 323, 324, 326 and 327 Routes.

Lett and Westbrook both said the free rides may cause them to use the bus more often to run their routine errands and make other trips.

Alex Garcia, who was waiting at Eighth and Coffman to catch a Route 326 bus to her job at the Family Dollar Store at 1640 Hover St. after first taking a Route 324 bus downtown from Airport and Nelson roads, said she often walked from home to work and back in order to avoid having to pay bus fare.

Garcia said that when she got on the 324 bus on Tuesday morning and was told she didn't have to pay anything, "I thought it was my lucky day. It'll save me a lot."

Joe Lopez was riding the Route 323 bus to accompany a friend to WorkForce Boulder County, with the pair then planning to catch another bus to a restaurant for breakfast.

"I ride it almost every day," Lopez said. He said he'd heard the buses would be free starting on Tuesday but had forgotten and had brought his passes with him.

The transit agency will collect what it normally would have gotten in customer-paid fares, including discounted charges available to seniors, the disabled and Medicare recipients -- as well as elementary, middle and high schools students ages 6 to 19 -- but it'll be getting that money from Boulder County, the city of Longmont, and a state Colorado Department of Transportation Department grant under an experiment intended to try to increase ridership on the RTD's fixed local routes within Longmont.

During the six-month pilot program -- which could be extended beyond Jan. 1 -- CDOT is putting up a projected $54,000, with the city and Boulder County paying an estimated $27,000 each.

"I'm hoping to get more students, more kids, going to the library" now that the rides are free, said Michelle McIntosh, one of the Route 324 drivers.

Joe Lebeck, another Route 324 driver, said he's been having "to tell passengers to put their money away."

Said Lebeck: "People seem to be pretty receptive to free." He said a number of Tuesday morning's passengers had already heard of the fare-less rides, and "it's been noticeably busy already today."

Scott McCarey, manager of the Boulder County Transportation Department's multi-modal division, said about 5,000 brochures about what's being called the Ride Free! Longmont bus service have been printed and are being distributed to make even more people aware of the free local RTD buses.

Contact Times-Call staff writer John Fryar at 303-684-5211 or jfryar@times-call.com

Copyright 2014 - Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo.

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