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GCRTA, Cleveland Foundation Are Offering Fare-Free Transit on Election Day

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bus
Isaiah Paik
The free ride initiative covers bus, rail and paratransit travel all day Nov. 3.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) will provide free transportation to all riders on Election Day as part of an effort to get residents to the polls, funded by a grant from the Cleveland Foundation.

Free rides will be available on all forms of transit, including rail, bus and paratransit.

It is the first time RTA has offered fare-free travel for an election, said RTA spokesperson Linda Krecic.

“Our goal is to make sure no one is prevented from voting because they can’t pay their fare, and we want to make voting as easy and accessible as possible to everyone in Cuyahoga County,” Krecic said.

RTA board members originally expressed concern about the possibility of voters being able to get rides to the polls, but ending up stranded there after casting their ballots. But rides will be free both to and from polling places, Krecic said, and voters are encouraged to look up routes to find when service ends for the day.

“Many of our routes are 24/7; many of them that are not run late into the night,” Krecic said. “They’re certainly going to be running during polling hours.”

Paratransit riders should schedule trips in advance, Krecic said, to ensure they can get the service they need.

The fare-free Election Day 2020 service is possible with a $75,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation, Krecic said, and RTA cannot guarantee such initiatives will take place in future elections.

“There is a cost to putting service on the streets,” Krecic said. “We can’t do things for free, but we can certainly work with partners like the Cleveland Foundation to cover the cost.”

RTA is anticipating being able to meet demand next week, she said, but the transit authority cannot add more routes without knowing which ones will be most trafficked.

“This is something that we’re doing for the first time, and I think we’re ready for a regular day of busy,” Krecic said.

All RTA riders are required to wear masks, she said, and will need to bring their own.

Offering free public transit on Election Day will help underserved and disadvantaged populations, said Keisha González with the Cleveland Foundation. People without a car or access to one, and those working non-traditional hours may not be able to get to their polling location otherwise, she said.

“We want to make sure that we are creating equal opportunity for people to get to the polls. This is such a beautiful, nonpartisan way to engage folks to get out and vote,” González said. “If we look at how folks have been responding to early voting, it’s been a beautiful thing. We knew that if we removed one more barrier, we could definitely support the ongoing urgency to help get to the polls.”

There aren’t any solid plans to offer grants for fare-free transit in the future at this time, for elections or otherwise, González said, but the foundation is interested in doing so as well as looking into ways to promote more engagement in the future.

"The biggest conversation piece we have been having has been around civic engagement not ending after the election," González said.

Other organizations and businesses also are working to provide transportation to the polls Nov. 3. Voter Drive Cleveland is offering free rides by car through an online request form, and Spin, the electric scooter company, is providing credits for travel to local polling stations.
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