Greater Dayton RTA will provide free weekend rides all summer long

Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

For the first time ever, the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority will offer free bus rides on weekends all summer, coming at a time of record high gas prices.

Between June 4 and Sept. 4, the RTA will not charge riders on Saturdays and Sundays on both its fixed-route buses and paratransit vehicles.

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The Greater Dayton RTA downtown hub along South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Greater Dayton RTA downtown hub along South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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The Greater Dayton RTA downtown hub along South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The agency wants to encourage people to attend summer events while saving money by taking public transportation instead of driving, avoiding the pain at the pump, agency officials said.

“There’s a lot happening on weekends these days, both in terms of work and leisure,” RTA CEO Bob Ruzinsky said. “Later this year RTA will be moving toward an improved service model that provides the same level of service seven days a week to meet those needs.”

Ruzinsky continued, “We felt free rides on the weekends for the summer would be a great way to get folks familiar with using RTA and provide them with a reliable transportation option for all their weekend needs.”

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RTA riders depart and load onto buses at the RTA Hub on Main St. in Dayton Tuesday July 27, 2021. RTA is moving to a cashless system in November. About one in five riders use cash. A survey shows nearly half of the riders earn $15k or less and 92% don't have access to a vehicle. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

RTA riders depart and load onto buses at the RTA Hub on Main St. in Dayton Tuesday July 27, 2021. RTA is moving to a cashless system in November. About one in five riders use cash. A survey shows nearly half of the riders earn $15k or less and 92% don't have access to a vehicle. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Combined ShapeCaption
RTA riders depart and load onto buses at the RTA Hub on Main St. in Dayton Tuesday July 27, 2021. RTA is moving to a cashless system in November. About one in five riders use cash. A survey shows nearly half of the riders earn $15k or less and 92% don't have access to a vehicle. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Regular gasoline across the nation has hit a record high of $4.62 a gallon, which is 45 cents more than a month ago and $1.58 more than a year ago, according to AAA.

Public transit, which saw large ridership declines during the COVID pandemic, oftentimes sees an increase in usage when fuel prices rise rapidly.

Taking public transit instead of driving saves Americans more than $10,000 annually on average, which is based on the cost of owning and driving a car, says a report by the American Public Transportation Association from June 2018, when gas cost $2.94 per gallon.

ExploreApril story: RTA prepares for route changes, service cuts

RTA staff developed this idea as a way to ensure the entire community has access to transportation during the many activities that occur in Montgomery County throughout the summer, said Brandon Policicchio, RTA’s chief customer and business development officer.

Between January and April, RTA welcomed more than 267,500 riders on Saturdays and Sundays.

The agency believes the lost summer weekend fares will be offset later this year by increased ridership, as it introduces and grows expanded weekend service, Policicchio said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Some RTA riders say they believe the agency will see a big jump in ridership on the weekends when service is free.

“It’s going to help me out,” said Antonellia Sibert, 63, a Trotwood resident. “The buses probably will be full, as soon as people find out. ... This will catch on big.”

Kara Okwood, 36, of Dayton, said she expects to use the free weekend buses to help with her job search or help her get to work, when she finds a job.

“I think it’s beautiful, actually,” she said. “Once I start working, I hopefully will be able to get to work for free on the weekends, for the whole summer.”

RTA about four years ago launched a free shuttle service called the Flyer between downtown and Brown Street by the University of Dayton campus.

The agency also regularly offers free bus service on election days and during some special events.

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