Boston’s newly elected mayor, Michelle Wu, has requested the City Council allocate US$8 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to eliminate fares on three bus lines over a two-year period.
The move would see the three routes free from early next year, and is an expansion of former acting Mayor Kim Janey’s four-month fare-free bus pilot programme.
“I am excited to take this key step towards a brighter transit future,” said Mayor Wu.
“Building on the fare-free [line] 28 bus pilot created by Mayor Janey, we will expand access to transit across our neighbourhoods, connecting more people to their schools, places of worship, small businesses, and community centres – and easing congestion on our bus riders and drivers alike.
“With stronger ties between our communities, we’ll reshape the boundaries of what’s possible in our city.”
The city says the two-year investment will allow it to measure the benefits of fare-free bus services, such as increased ridership, faster journeys, less traffic, and business development along the route.
The programme also sets the foundation for Mayor Wu to build regional and state-level momentum for fare-free public transit, starting with buses.
While overall bus and subway ridership in the city is at 53 percent of pre-pandemic weekday levels, the free 28 bus saw ridership surge to 92 percent of pre-pandemic levels, making it the most popular in the system.
Stacy Thompson, Executive Director of community group the Livable Streets Alliance, said: “We are thrilled to hear about the expansion and extension of the free buses pilot in Boston – and we are proud that Boston has become a national leader in the free transit movement.
“What the City of Boston is demonstrating is that we don’t need dozens of studies and public meetings to advance free transit.
“The best method is to simply move forward with pilots, measure their success and then continue to expand the effort. The real winners of free transit are the thousands of riders who will also experience faster and more reliable bus services.
“We hope that other municipalities in the region will join Boston to advance additional free bus pilots across the region – and that the MBTA will continue to be a strong collaborator in this effort.”
Dozens of cities around the world have implemented free-fare policies to some extent, with a few, such as Tallinn in Estonia, making the entire network free.
Several US cities, including Kansas City, Missouri and Olympia, Washington, have introduced fare-free public transit, while others, including Detroit, are considering proposals.
A 2016 study from the International Journal of Transportation found that commuters were more influenced by accessibility than price when choosing a transport mode.
Researchers found that eliminating fares in European transit systems increased ridership 13-fold, but had only a “marginal” impact on vehicle traffic since most riders switched from walking or cycling.