FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks North Star Borough is again offering free rides on municipal buses to help keep winter air clean, but the program may end next year when federal funding runs out.
"It will be the last year unless we can come up with another funding source," said Glenn Miller, director of the borough transportation department.
It's the sixth year the borough has offered free bus rides from Nov. 1 to March 31 to cut down on vehicle emissions to improve air quality. All six years have been paid for with federal grants.
"It's a program that's been extremely popular with the public," Miller said. Riders nearly double during the free-ride program.
Warren Terrance, a 54-year-old Fairbanks construction worker, takes advantage of the free rides. In other months, Terrance pays $3 a day to ride the bus. At $15 a week for five months, that translates to a savings of $300.
Terrance has never driven a car and he has no urge to start, especially when he accompanies his wife to the gas station when she fills up their car's gas tank for $40.
The current three-year grant from the Environmental Protection Agency provided the borough with $170,000 per year, said Jim Conner, acting transportation administrator.
When the borough began the program in 1999 with a congestion, mitigation and air quality grant, it was aimed at improving air quality and increasing riders on borough buses by getting residents to use the transit system instead of driving their cars. The borough has not exceeded the EPA's carbon monoxide levels since the free-rider program started in 1999. Conner said that's probably not due to more people riding buses.
"I'd say it's helped but I wouldn't make that statement," he said. "It's hard to say what impact it has had."
The borough has nine buses that cover most of the Fairbanks residential area.
Last year, borough buses logged almost 2 million miles. The borough is planning to buy 10 new buses in the next year, Miller said.
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