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Fairfax County will expand free Metrobus program for students to four new schools

A Metrobus at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County is expanding its student Metrobus pass program to four new schools in the fall, letting more students ride the bus for free.

Starting in September, students at Annandale High School, Falls Church High School, Marshall High School, and Davis Center will be able to get a pass that allows them to ride Fairfax Connector, the City of Fairfax CUE, and the Metrobus for free.

The bus pass can only be used on certain routes in Northern Virginia and in between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The county launched a program in 2015 letting all Fairfax County Public School students ride Fairfax Connector at no cost. A year later, the City of Fairfax CUE was added to that program. In 2018, a pilot program was approved allowing students at Justice High School to also ride certain Metrobus routes for free.

The program is intended to give students more independence as they go to and from school, participate in after-school activities, and work jobs.

The Metrobus pilot is now ramping up with a memorandum of understanding going before the Board of Supervisors later this month. The county is also working to hire a new coordinator to oversee the program and order new cards to distribute to students.

A launch event will be held at Marshall High School in September.

Since the program began more than seven years ago, students have taken over 2 million trips on local buses, according to data presented by staff at the board’s transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (June 14).

Since April of this year, students have made up nearly 8% of all Fairfax Connector ridership.

“Students are proving to be some of our most loyal customer base,” Kala Quintana, Fairfax Connector’s head of marketing, said.

For the Metrobus pilot program, the county noted that about half of Justice students had and were actively using the specially-designed Smartrip card.

The county hopes that, by the end of the 2022-2023 school year, 8,500 students from 30 high schools, 23 middle schools, and nine centers for students with different needs and abilities will be using the bus pass.

When the program launches at the four new schools later this year, a form will be available on the FCPS website that students’ parents can sign and turn into the school so their kid can get a bus pass.

While members were okay with the process for the foreseeable future, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he would eventually like to see students’ identification, bus pass, library card, and other services all consolidated on one card.

The board also discussed doing more outreach to students who don’t attend FCPS, like those who are homeschooled and attend private institutions.

“The fact that we had this Covid break and kids weren’t even going to school and we have these kinds of ridership numbers…and demand is a proven testament to the vision we had for this at the very beginning,” McKay said. “It’s a program that all of our kids in FCPS, middle and high schoolers, can take advantage of.”

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