Fare-Free Buses

A group of people wearing winter coats stand outside the door of a Silver Line bus, waiting to enter.

Transit is essential. As more people in Massachusetts start regularly making trips, fare-free buses can support people returning to public transit. Now is the best time to rethink our transportation system. Current MBTA predictions indicate that pre-pandemic transit ridership will take years to return. Meanwhile, highway congestion has already returned to previous levels on some roads. Making buses free across the state is an important first step towards supporting the economic and social recovery from COVID and ensuring all Massachusetts residents can get to where they need to go.

Sign on your organization/group to demonstrate support for fare-free buses across MA.


A crowd of people stand outside a 23 bus to Ashmont, waiting to board.

Why Fare-Free Buses

Fare-free buses will help both MBTA and RTA riders in different ways. 

MBTA benefit:

  • Fare-free buses allow for all-door boarding, which will improve service quality. All-door boarding has been proven, across the country and here in Boston, to help buses move faster and more reliably. The operational efficiency gained through this change is the same goal the MBTA hopes to achieve by paying almost $1 billion dollars for the Fare Transformation project.
  • Implementing fare-free buses is quick and free: simply stop collecting fares.
  • Not charging fares on buses also avoids the expense, discrimination, and potential conflict of fare enforcement. This is one of the ongoing concerns with the transition to the new fare payment system.

RTA benefits:

  • Fare-free buses will increase ridership. Ridership has been decreasing across many RTAs as fares have risen and the cost of collecting fares remains a high proportion of the expenses for RTAs. Fare-free buses have already demonstrated to increase ridership as seen with the pilots in Lawrence and the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA).
  • Fare-free RTA buses remove cost barriers for low income residents, are more cost-effective, and better meet the needs of riders compared to implementing low income fares. As demonstrated in Lawrence, nearly 90 percent of riders on the three free routes make less than $20,000 a year. The administrative costs of instituting a low income fare system would outweigh the benefits for RTA systems, especially for those most in need of access to affordable transit. For many riders, every dollar counts. Indeed, while providing fare-free service during the pandemic, ridership on the WRTA has been at 65% of pre-COVID levels, placing it much higher than the ridership of other Massachusetts RTAs and MBTA.

However, fare-free buses are just one of the many strategies needed to fix our bus system. 

For the MBTA this includes: (1) procuring more buses and maintenance garages to allow for more frequent service; (2) adding more dedicated bus lanes and other bus priority features to key bus routes across the state (3) overhauling MBTA fare policy and implementing low-income fares to support affordability and access to the MBTA transit system. 

Across many RTA service areas housing is spread out and there are few bus routes connecting people with where they need to go. Adjusting and adding bus routes to better fit people’s travel needs and adjusting zoning and land use patterns can help better support robust transit systems.

Without addressing these challenges head-on, riders will continue to be underserved by public transit at a crucial moment. In the meantime, making local buses free across the state is an important first step towards supporting the economic and social recovery from COVID and ensuring all Massachusetts residents can get to where they need to go.


Resources

  • Check out our FAQ to learn more 
  • Research about fare-free bus service in Massachusetts:
  • Legislation that currently supports fare-free bus service:
    • Massachusetts State Legislation:
      • Free Buses: “An Act relative to fare-free buses” would require the MBTA and allow RTAs to implement a one-year fare-free pilot. S.2340, sponsored by Senator Patricia Jehlen | H.3403, sponsored by Representative Christine Barber.
        • By running pilots, transit agencies can test to see the actual cost of fare-free service, what the induced demand is, and how it affects riders’ quality of life and access to jobs, housing, and services.
      • Transportation New Deal: “An Act Creating a New Deal for Transportation in the Commonwealth” is a comprehensive bill that includes numerous policies to improve our transportation system including additional revenue, bus and rail transformation, a congestion pricing commission, low income fares, fare-free bus service for MBTA and RTAs, and other measures. S.2265, sponsored by Senator Joe Boncore.
        • Free buses state-wide and low-income fares for other modes of MBTA transit
        • Creates options to increase revenue to support funding of fare-free buses
        • Allows for changes in the MBTA governance and TCI investment oversight to ensure MBTA investments are well spent
    • Federal Legislation:
      • Freedom to Move Act introduced by Senator Markey and Representative Pressley. This bill is designed to support state and local efforts to promote and invest in public transit. To support fare free transit, it would establish a grant program to offset transit agencies' fare revenue loss.

Recent press about fare-free buses

  • MassINC released a poll showing that 59% of voters in Massachusetts support fare-free buses, while half of respondents supported an entirely fare-free system, Jan 2021
  • Worcester extending free fares, Feb 2021: MassLive
  • Commonwealth magazine, Feb 2021 “shifting the paradigm to looking at public transit as a public good and not as a tax on the people using it”
  • “Are Free Buses Closer than they Appear?” MassINC, Mar 2021
  • “Is an era of fare-free buses coming to Boston?” Boston Globe, April 2021
  • “After showing its worth during pandemic, momentum builds for free or reduced-fare transit,” Washington Post, May 2021
  • Worcester RTA advisory board votes to extend fare-free pilot until end of year, StreetsBlog Mass. May 2021

Press across the country

  • CT Transit, Fare-Free Buses for the Summer, Mar 2021: Yale Daily News
  • Next City, How Chicago could Build Equity Into Transportation, April 2021
  • Legislation filed in RI to provide fare free RIPTA buses, Providence Journal, April 2021
  • LA metro approved fare-free transit pilot for 23-months for students + low income riders

Sign on your organization/group to demonstrate support for fare-free buses across MA:

 

Contact

(617) 621-1746

Kristiana Lachiusa, [email protected]

 

Take our website survey!