Efforts are underway to get Loudoun's youth to ride transit buses as a means of increasing their access to activities and keeping them out of trouble.
Mark McGregor, CEO of the Virginia Regional Transit Association, said teens are leery of taking the bus, because they believe it is for people who exhibit mental or criminal tendencies.
“That’s not true,” he said, adding that 150 to 200 young people now ride the bus to get to and from work.
Another hurdle in convincing students to use public transportation is they are not aware of the bus routes, he said. To encourage more young people to ride, he is giving away about 1,000 free passes, good for three months, to honor roll students at Sterling Middle School and Park View High School.
McGregor also offered free rides to all youth during the 2004 Christmas school holiday.
“It’s not about fares,” he said. “It’s getting kids to know where they can go. … Kids don’t know what services are available. They don’t know how to access them.”
HE RECENTLY SENT out a direct mailing with the bus schedules to Loudoun residents, but he suspects the parents read it instead of their children.
He also is working with the Loudoun Youth Initiative on finding evening and weekend transportation for teens. The Youth Initiative formed last year to find out ways to keep students away from alcohol, drugs and gangs. Members interviewed about 500 middle- and high-school students, and learned that the two greatest needs were teen centers and transportation.
A lot of students said they wanted to go to the Dulles Town Center between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., he said. They were not aware that the buses provide transportation from the Route 7 corridor and two areas in Sterling. It costs 50 cents each way, with free transfers, he said.
McGregor heads up the Youth Initiative transportation planning group.
CAROL KOST, chairperson of the Advisory Commission on Youth, said the planning group is looking at the possibility of buying a bus — the Teen Machine — to take the youth to teen centers, once they are established. “I think it’s youth connectiveness,” she said. “Even if you build a teen center, how do they get there? We partner with existing services, building on what we have and expanding from there.”
McGregor said the association holds a bowling fund-raiser every year and donates the money to charity. This year, the money will support the Youth Initiative’s transportation needs.
Kost said the Youth Initiative is considering formation of a nonprofit to raise money and accept donations. “It would be easier to give to a nonprofit to produce some of these events,” he said.
The Loudoun Youth Initiative has not lost its momentum since it started about seven months ago, she said. The Board of Supervisors has backed a proposal to create two full-time positions to support and coordinate the group.
McGregor said he got the idea for free passes for honor students from Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who solicits gifts for honor students for each marking period. Delgaudio said he raised $30,000 in donations for the honor roll students last marketing period. Among the donors were: the Ashburn Ice House with two hours of public skating and free rentals, Chick-fil-A with free sandwich coupons, Jerry’s Pizza with free pizzas and Blockbuster with free video rentals.
Delgaudio said he considers the free bus rides a pilot program. “It’s a benefit for the kids, and it’s a great idea to basically, in a limited fashion, open up the buses to the kids, he said.”