LANCASTER – Senior citizens in the Antelope Valley will continue to ride free on local buses thanks to grant funding and government support of a new Senior Annual Pass Program.
The new pass program comes just as the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) prepares to adjust its free fare to a 75 cent fare starting Sept. 1. The program will provide free annual bus passes to senior citizens, using $200,000 from a grant awarded by the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District (AVAQMD), along with matching funds from the City of Lancaster, and Los Angeles County.
The goal of the AVAQMD in funding the program is to encourage seniors to use public transportation and keep more cars off the streets, thus reducing air pollution and traffic congestion.
“AVTA has been supporting our senior community by providing free local service for several years,” stated Board Chairman Marvin Crist. “Even when fare changes became necessary, and we could no longer provide free rides to seniors, we continued to explore other options to help defray the cost, and allow them to continue to ride for free. The AVAQMD stepped up in a big way, and their generosity, plus the local match, will give our senior citizens the mobility they need without any additional financial burden.”
Qualified seniors must have a Reduced Fare TAP card in order to load the free Senior Annual Pass onto the smart card, and the annual pass may only be loaded at the AVTA office facility, located at 42210 6th Street West in Lancaster.
Passes will be available to residents of Lancaster and Palmdale beginning Sept. 1, and Los Angeles County residents can obtain their passes beginning Sept. 9.
The AVTA board of directors made the decision to eliminate free fares for seniors and disabled persons after it was determined that 53 percent of its annual boardings were provided free of charge. The transit system has seen a 30 percent increase in ridership since 2011 but revenues have decreased slightly, making service expansion impossible despite the growing demand.
Free rides will remain for those who are severely challenged with a disability and qualify for a Los Angeles County Access Services card, as this agency reimburses AVTA for each provided trip.
People with disabilities who do not qualify for Access Services and seniors who do not live in the area will be asked to pay a 75 cent fare, which is half of the regular fare.
“We are looking forward to providing additional bus service in the next few years to meet the growing demand and the rate adjustment will help us to do that,” said Executive Director Len Engel. “We are also grateful to the AVAQMD and our local jurisdictions for providing a creative and effective solution to help our seniors on fixed incomes continue to ride for free while helping the environment at the same time.”
The AVAQMD money comes from a Mobile Source Emissions Reduction Program fee of $4 annually on every vehicle registration, and the matching funds contributed by each participating jurisdiction are Proposition A funds.
AVTA staff has determined there is enough grant funding and local match to cover the cost of the entire program for one year.
“We are hopeful additional funds will be available to keep this program alive for several years to come,” said Crist.
Any funds from the grant not applied to the cost of the free passes will be used for the purpose of purchasing electric buses and providing electric bus infrastructure.
[Information via news release from the Antelope Valley Transit Authority.]