Editor, The Messenger:
As a student of Ohio University, I have access to use Athens Public Transit “free of charge” thanks to a financial agreement between the university and the city of Athens. The city receives a portion of student fees paid each semester by those enrolled at the university to use the bus service without having to pay a fare or obtain a pass.
While I utilize this service frequently, most people who rely on public transit are not students. Most people who rely on the bus service are those than can least afford to do so. Struggles to pay the fare, misplaced bus passes, inability to find a seat during crowded times and other instances are just some of the reasons why I have seen someone desperately needing access to this service get denied.
Athens County is notoriously one of the lowest income counties in the state.
Many residents heavily rely on public services such as SNAP, Medicaid, and SSI. I propose that the city devise a transit program wherein those residents that qualify for such services also qualify to ride the Athens public transit at a reduced or no cost.
While the one time or multiple use fare may not seem like a heavy burden to some, it can be an insurmountable barrier to access for others. While it is nice that students can use this services for seemingly free, not everyone has access to becoming a student.
Students with greater economic means who happen to be attending the university should not have access to “free” transportation on the public system when who do not have the privilege of attending the university cannot have the same access. The service should be provided to all who need it.
People living in economic stress know how crucial access to transit is. Unreliable access to transportation can lead to a missed medical appointment for someone or a child that takes months to schedule when using Medicaid, Medicare or CHIP insurance. It can lead to being dropped from a vitally needed service such as SNAP or Medicaid due to a missed appointment with a caseworker. It can mean having an arrest warrant issued for missing a court hearing for a minor traffic or drug charge, effectively criminalizing poverty and maintaining a cycle of economic despair.
While providing reduced or subsidized access to transit will not solve the complex issue of poverty, this service can alleviate some of the stress that is created by living in dire economic situations.
I encourage some of the city leaders to spend time on the bus routes and talk to non-student residents about their need for this service. They will find that many low-income people are having trouble accessing reliable public transit.