To Get Teens on the Bus, Free Tokens of Appreciation

Yorktown High freshman Adrian Francis, left, and Bobbi Greenberg of Arlington County Commuter Services, at an event promoting iRide.
Yorktown High freshman Adrian Francis, left, and Bobbi Greenberg of Arlington County Commuter Services, at an event promoting iRide. (By Mark Berman)
By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 3, 2007

A new Arlington initiative aims to do something revolutionary: make public transportation cool. Well, maybe not "cool," but at least attractive to county teenagers.

The goal of the program, iRide, is to encourage Arlington teens to use public transportation such as the Arlington Transit bus system. Teens are offered reduced fares and pocket-size maps; the program is promoted at kiosks in the county's middle and high schools.

Instead of the normal $1.25 ART fare, middle and high school students who show their school IDs will pay a reduced fare of 60 cents (50 cents if they buy tokens at Commuter Stores.) The reduced fares do not apply to Metrobus or Metrorail.

The initiative stems from a spring 2006 survey of middle and high school students, which revealed a number of barriers to teens' use of transit, including a lack of information, expensive fares and a perceived lack of coolness. Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D)had made teen transit a priority, having met with county teenagers as early as November 2005.

"It was really something to listen to them," Zimmerman said. "They were a great source of ideas." The program, he said, has "been designed by the kids to a large degree."

Members of the Teen Transit Advisory Board, made up of middle and high school students, met throughout the school year, even during summer vacation, to help develop iRide.

"We picked a lot of the design and colors," said board member Marisa Beckley, 17, a junior at Washington-Lee High School.

The board worked with marketing staff to make the program's logo appealing, while simplifying the maps that would be given out. The initial map was scrapped after the teens said it was too cluttered with irrelevant information, such as side streets they didn't need labeled. The new maps focus on main streets, landmarks and bus routes.

"They have a lot of great ideas," said teen board coordinator Judy Hadden, who has worked on the program since its inception. "IRide would not have been the same without the youth input."

County employees and community volunteers hit the road last week to kick off the program at three county high schools. They traveled on an ART bus from school to school during lunch periods, giving out maps, tokens and information about iRide.

Kiosks featuring maps of each school and its surrounding community will remain in the cafeterias at Wakefield, Yorktown and Washington-Lee. Kiosks will soon appear in other schools, officials said.

During their visits last week, volunteers went from table to table in the cafeterias, chatting with students. Students who at first looked askance seemed more interested by the end of the brief conversations.

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