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ROCKFORD — Students in kindergarten through 12th grade and veterans will be able to ride Rockford Mass Transit District bus routes for free next year.

The service starts on Jan. 3.

“At the city, we are always looking for ways to reduce barriers for our residents,” Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said in a news release. “By providing free transportation to our veterans and students we are giving these individuals more opportunities when it comes to work, education, appointments and play. They will no longer be limited by the cost of bus fare or the distance to their destination.”

The city contributed $24,500 to fund the program, with the money coming from the federal American Rescue Plan coronavirus stimulus package.

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Veterans must have an RMTD veteran ID card to ride for free. To obtain the ID card, veterans need to bring a photo ID and proof of their military service to either RMTD transfer center. The Downtown Transfer Center is located at 501 W. State St. and the East Side Transfer Center is located at 725 N. Lyford Road.

RMTD will issue a veteran photo ID card that they will show to bus operators each time they board. The cost for the ID card is $5, and there is no expiration.

Students in grades K-12 who go to school in the RMTD service area will get free unlimited rides at any time. They must present a valid area school ID or an RMTD student photo ID card.

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If your child’s school doesn’t issue an ID card, you can obtain an RMTD student ID for $2 at either transfer center.

“RMTD is very pleased to partner with the city of Rockford to bring these programs to life,” RMTD Executive Director Michael Stubbe said in a news release. “It is always rewarding when you can connect people with resources to help them improve their situation. Free rides for veterans is something the district has been wanting to do for a while. We are happy that with the city’s help we can now make this a reality.”

“Free rides for students is also a great initiative,” Stubbe said. “Not only will it eliminate any financial barriers for families with transportation issues, but it will also pave the way for a new generation of transit rides. It is our hope that once students use RMTD for their travels to school they will see the benefits of riding public transportation throughout their adult lives.”