Hundreds of Jacksonville students have been riding city buses to school for free since the service began a year ago.
Sixth grader Maishaa Jean-Baptiste is typical of them.
Maishaa is a student at the Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts in Springfield, where the My Ride 2 School program was celebrated Tuesday. She says the free rides have helped her adjust to middle school while giving her freedom.
“It has helped me both physically and mentally because in the morning if you end up accidentally missing your bus, you could just hop on a JTA bus,” Maishaa said. “It’ll be a lot more peaceful than anything. It’s like that one, little getaway you get from the world.”
The My Ride 2 School program is a partnership between the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and Duval County School District. It provides free fixed-route bus trips to middle and high school students at any public, private or charter school in Duval County.
Maishaa found the program online and introduced it to her father and older sister. It saves her family $8 a day for her commute from the Railyard District. That may not sound like much to others, but Maishaa says it makes a difference.
“It makes your life 1,000 times easier,” said Maishaa, whose home is on the westside of Interstate 95. “Not only does it save your life, it makes your life more efficient. It’s way easier to whip out an ID and say ‘Yeah, I’m a middle schooler’ and be on your merry way.”
In a Fare Equity Analysis completed last year, JTA proposed the My Ride 2 School program as a way to increase ridership as it emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the program has offered more than 135,000 free fares.
The No. 3 route, which is a short distance from Ribault and Raines high schools as well as Stanton College Prep and Darnell-Cookman, is the most popular route.
Tenth grader Jahnez Layne says riding the JTA is easier than taking two school buses from her Riverside neighborhood.
“The program has helped me, especially with time and money as well because $4 or $5 can add up very quickly throughout the days,” Jahnez said. The program helps “financially and mentally too.”
Jahnez said her mother showed her how to traverse the JTA system when she was 7 so she always had a way home. Now, she has a way to participate in extracurricular activities and get home before dark.
“On the bus, I can listen to music, catch up on work, see what I need to do to help my planning schedule,” Layne said. “And that helps a lot when I get home to know exactly what to do.”
JTA found that more than 1 in 3 students who participated last year were minorities, and 26% were from low-income households. CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. says the authority and school district are both anchors in the community.
“Every day, the JTA works to improve mobility and access for students in the Northeast Florida region, and this partnership with DCPS will help them expand their transportation options now and in the future,” Ford said in a statement.
What began as a pilot program to increase JTA ridership during the pandemic has now been made permanent.