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If you ask Fort Meade commuters why they do not use public transportation, the answer is often: "What happens if I have an emergency or have to work late?"

Because public transportation is not "on-call," the chance of an unexpected change in schedule pushes many to the costliest commuter option -- a single occupancy vehicle.

For many people, there has been no other viable option until now.

With funding from the Maryland Department of Transportation, the Guaranteed Ride Home program offers commuters peace of mind when they have an emergency or a sudden work-schedule change.

The Guaranteed Ride Home program, managed by Commuter Connections, is like an insurance policy for unexpected situations. The program offers a free ride to the commuter's home in a taxi or a rental car, depending on the commuter's home location.

To be eligible, commuters must register in advance and must renew registration annually.

"You never know when something unexpected might happen like a personal illness, a family emergency or unscheduled overtime," said Roberta Jackson, commuter assistance coordinator. "Through the Guaranteed Ride Home program, individuals who commute to work in modes other than the personal automobile can be assured that they can return home ... anytime."

Previously implemented in the Washington, D.C. region, the Guaranteed Ride Home program was initially expanded to serve the Greater Baltimore area and St. Mary's County. Residents in counties included in the program who commute to work by public transit, carpool, vanpool, bicycle or walking at least twice a week are eligible for a free ride home in case of an emergency.

The recent expansion of the program to Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties now means that thousands of workers who relocated to Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground through the Base Realign and Closure process are also eligible for the benefit.

"The Guaranteed Ride Home program removes a major barrier for many who are interested in finding commuting alternatives to the personal automobile," said John Powell, chief executive officer for the Central Maryland Regional Transit Corporation. "The world of public transit, carpools and even the greenest of green bicycles can now be more confidentially accessed."

For more information and to begin participating in the Guaranteed Ride Home program, register online with Commuter Connections at www.commuterconnections.org or call 800-745-RIDE (7433).

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