Free bus service expands Tuesday as long-term costs come into question – Boston 25 News

BOSTON — Starting Tuesday morning, some Boston commuters will be able to get a free ride to work.

Three MBTA bus routes that pass through Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan will no longer charge the traditional $1.70 fare. This is a trial program that Mayor Michelle Wu set up to improve access to public transport. The program, which includes Routes 23, 28 and 29, will run over the next two years.

“We know that transportation and transit in particular are the foundation of so many things,” Mayor Wu said. “It’s life changing when we can remove that barrier for people.”

The mayor is using $8 million in federal pandemic relief funds to fund this trial program.

“This pilot program will be one of the oldest free fare pilots in the country,” said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Boston Street Leader.

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority has offered a free service since March 2020. 10,000 riders use the service daily.

“I think public transit needs to evolve in a way that makes itself more and more accessible to more and more people,” said Dennis Lipka, the program’s chief administrator.

The WRTA has also tapped into COVID funds to fund its program.

Lipka knows this stream of income won’t last forever. The system lost about $3.5 million in fare revenue when it made the buses free. He says the program is having a positive effect on the community, but thinks it may need to be changed in the future.

“Maybe there needs to be a return to a lower fare middle ground, definitely less than $1.75,” Lipka explained. “We should be able to use an EBT card to buy public transport and offer student discounts.”

Greg Sullivan of the Pioneer Institute in Boston said more than 100 communities offer some form of free bus service.

“It’s great to see communities thinking about it, but where the rubber meets the road is paying for buses to run on the road, and that’s very expensive,” Sullivan said.

For example, he says there is no way for the MBTA to meet the costs of providing free bus service. He adds that most municipalities cannot pay this bill either.

Sullivan thinks Boston’s plan could provide a major boost to the region, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. “It’s a stimulating and economic sector of the city that has been deprived of really fast public transport.

Proponents of free fares say there are other benefits besides saving passengers money. Buses run more efficiently because people can get on and off more easily. The environment benefits because the buses don’t idle for so long.

Mayor Wu thinks expanding free transit would be transformative for the city. “It’s the fastest way to achieve our goals when it comes to everything we talk about in the City of Boston, from equity and economic mobility to our climate justice goals.”

Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ayanna Presley co-sponsored “The Freedom to Move Act,” which would fully fund free public transit.

Melvin Z. Madore