If it weren't for Cape May County's Fare Free Transportation program, Villas resident Gert Nicklas doesn't know what she would do. Nicklas is a frequent patron of the free public transit service, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last week. She has used it to get to and from doctor appointments and the Lower Cape Senior Center for the past seven years, during which time she's been more than satisfied.
"It's wonderful," she said. "The best thing that could have happened."
The service was started in 1973 by a small group of private citizens who purchased a surplus military bus and used their limited funding to provide elderly residents with transportation from the Villas section of Lower Township to the shopping district in Rio Grande.
When the group's limited funds proved unable to cover costs, the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders stepped in, funding the program and taking its reins. By the end of 1973, it was transporting residents of all 16 Cape May municipalities to shopping centers weekly. By 1975, it purchased new vehicles and paid new drivers and an administrative staff, allowing it to transport residents to doctor appointments and senior centers as well.
The program, which is funded through grant awards from the Casino Revenue Fund and others, has since been expanded to provide free shuttle service to disabled and low-income residents as well. It also delivers Meals on Wheels. Forty years in, Fare Free serves about 5,000 Cape May County residents annually.
While the convenience of the service is unmatched, Cape May resident Marge Scott said it's the courteous drivers who make it stand out.
"The bus drivers are very helpful, very accommodating," Scott said. "I have yet to find one that isn't."
Other counties in the area have transportation programs similar to Cape May's Fare Free, such as Atlantic County with its Atlantic County Transportation Unit buses and Ocean County's Ocean Ride service. Residents in these counties also have several paid public transport options.
In addition to providing trips to doctors' offices, senior and shopping centers, Fare Free takes residents to destinations of their choice on a first-come, first-served basis.
Villas resident Marie Mawson uses the service to get to her job as a volunteer at the Lower Cape Senior Center when her husband is unable to take her. She also takes it to her weekly swimming classes at the Von Savage pool in Wildwood Crest.
While Mawson has the luxury of someone to give her rides, for many without that choice, Fare Free is a blessing.
"It gets the seniors out of their houses, especially those who live alone and don't get out to socialize," Mawson said. "I think it's really a wonderful thing to have."
Contact Braden Campbell:
To learn more
For more information or to apply for the program, call 609-889-3700, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit capemaycountygov.net/Cit-e-Access/webpage.cfm?TID=5&TPID=8504