HONOLULU (KHON2) — Would you ride the bus if it was free? It’s something the city is trying to test out to bump up ridership.

The city said bus ridership is down about 40% from pre-COVID times. They want to target young riders to also make a dent in traffic during the commutes when school starts up again in the next few weeks.

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The plan is to implement a five-day stretch that is fare-free for TheBus riders from Aug 22 through Aug 26 — when the University of Hawaii begins the fall semester.

“Our intent as we know that during return to school we’ve all got used to this very light traffic during the summer even during the COVID period but we know that’s not gonna last forever,” Honolulu Department of Transportation Services director Roger Morton said.

The city also plans to temporarily suspend the $2 fee for a Holo Card, restore 39 express bus trips that were stopped due to COVID and make a new route to connect express busses to campuses including UH, Chaminade, and Kapiolani Community College.

“The more frequent the transit system is, the more attractive it is for people who can now have that freedom to travel when they want to. That’s how we just shifting people from cars into public transit,” Hawaii County Mass Transit administrator John Andoh said.

Hawaii County has committed to fare-free rides until the end of 2023 on the Hele-On Bus. Andoh said it could keep upwards of $660 in people’s pockets.

He adds that Hawaii County had 5% of their transit revenue from fares, which was cut to 1-2% from spending money on collecting and counting fare money. The county is now instead using $6.4 million in federal funds to support the program.

“When you really look at the grand scheme of things, utilizing grant funds to cover the cost of fares appears to be more cost-effective than collecting them themselves,” Andoh said.

They’ve implemented rules for Hele-On Bus riders requiring a destination to prevent joy riding and are planning on having security guards ride for safety.

Continuing the program past 2023 will require finding funding.

“If we determine this program to be a success, to see if the county council would consider funding transit, utilizing those other funding sources that we can identify,” Andoh said.

Honolulu’s fare-free program passed through the city council’s transportation committee but still needs to pass a full council vote on August 10.