Starting on November 15, 2019, the Freedom to Ride program, an extension of the Rio Metro Regional Transit District’s Veterans Annual Pass program, will be extended to active duty military as well as veterans and anyone with a federally issued veteran or military photo ID to ride the New Mexico Rail Runner Express for free.
“More than anything, this program is focused on breaking the barrier of isolation for our military and veteran population,” says Michael Jiron, Senior Designer and Special Services Supervisor for the Rio Metro Regional Transit District.
How it Works
Anyone with a federally issued veteran or military photo ID can simply show the ID to a New Mexico Rail Runner Express ticket agent when riding the train. To make a free connection to one of the more than 60 buses along the Rail Runner corridor, just ask the ticket agent for a bus transfer.
Federally issued photo IDs that will be accepted include a VHIC or VA medical card, a veteran’s ID (VIC card), a driver’s license with a veteran’s designation, or any of the numerous Department of Defense Active Duty Military IDs. Anyone who has the Rio Metro Lifetime Freedom Pass can also continue to show it on the train.
Qualifying dependents, such as a spouse or a child, who have their own Department of Defense photo ID can also ride for free.
The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs handle qualification and issuance of the ID cards. For more information visit www.cac.mil for the Uniformed Services ID and Qualifying Dependents cards, or www.va.gov for Veterans ID cards.
“Whether an individual needs to seek healthcare and they don’t have a vehicle, they are unable to drive because of a disability, or they have just returned from deployment and find themselves in a new place, the program spans all branches of military to allow this service to be offered to anyone and give them the independence to get where they need to go,” says Jiron.
The American Legion, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and Rio Metro will be hosting a co-launch event on Friday, November 15. The theme is ‘Celebrating 100 Years, Miles and Service’. The event will mark the 100-year anniversary of the American Legion, 100 miles of Rail Runner track, and looking forward to another century of service by our military and veterans alike.
The launch event will take place at the American Legion Post 13 in Albuquerque. Visit www.nmdvs.org for event details.
Rio Metro’s Veterans Annual Pass program was launched in 2014 as a pilot program for veterans with a VA Medical Card. As it grew in popularity, the program was made permanent and the pass changed from requiring an annual renewal to a Lifetime Freedom Pass. In November 2018, Rio Metro stopped issuing passes altogether, and began allowing veterans to simply show their VA card for free rides on the Rail Runner, making the service even more accessible.
“We’ve seen just under 200,000 rides using the Veterans Annual Pass and Freedom Pass, which amounts to just over 3,000 each month,” says Jiron. “While that may be rides, it is most importantly the lives we are impacting.
Jiron, who has been dedicated to creating and expanding this program since day one, says that the program’s continued success is due to word of mouth. “Individuals that care about each other have really spread the word to their family and friends, and we hope they will continue to do so as we move forward,” he says. “We are asking anyone who knows a hero or has a hero in their family to tell them about our Freedom to Ride program so that, together, we can continue to break barriers of isolation in our country.”