More cities are looking at making public transportation free

free bus rides
Posted at 11:51 AM, Mar 03, 2022

BOSTON, Mass. — As the country continues to emerge from COVID-19, more cities are piloting programs to make public transportation free in hopes of boosting ridership.

Stacy Thompson is with a nonprofit called LiveableStreets Alliance. For years, they have been working to break down barriers when it comes to Americans' access to public transportation.

"Sometimes the choice between paying for a monthly pass means that you can’t buy groceries for your children," Thompson said in a recent Zoom interview.

Last month, the city of Boston announced the continuation of a two-year pilot program to provide fare-free bus rides to city residents on three bus routes. The 23, the 28, and the 29. Those routes serve some of Boston’s most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods.

"I think demonstrating what’s possible with free fares is really wonderful," Thompson added.

Preliminary data from the program shows that 5% of riders chose to take the bus, who would’ve otherwise just driven their car.

All because the ride was free.

"If you reduce the number of cars by 5%, you reduce congestion by 20%. If you could get 5% of drivers off the road, wouldn’t it be worth it to you?" she noted.

Other cities across the country have already implemented fare-free programs, including Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Missoula, Montana; and Olympia, Washington.

"What we’re seeing is public transit is regrouping, it’s transitioning for the future," says Paul Skoutelas with the American Public Transportation Association.

Skoutelas' hope is that fare-free programs will get people back onto a bus or train who might have left because of COVID.

"People have gotten out of the habit of using public transportation," he said.