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Boston’s Michelle Wu Wants MBTA Transit to Be Fare-Free

The city’s mayor has announced that three MBTA bus routes will be fare-free starting in March, the first pilot in eliminating fares across the city. The fare-free routes primarily serve low-income individuals and people of color.

(TNS) — In a press conference announcing that three MBTA bus routes will be fare-free starting in March, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said she hopes to make all MBTA transportation free.

“We’ve been talking about that for a long, long time,” Wu said. “We know that transportation and public transit, in particular, is the foundation of so much. It’s life-changing when we can remove that barrier for people.”

The mayor acknowledged that there are costs and logistical details to the process, but with this first step, Boston is showing it’s possible.

Her office is already in communication with other municipalities in the region as they look into establishing free fare pilots. As they expand routes, Wu said that she will be working with MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.

“I think there are some important questions about funding that would need to be answered,” Poftak said. “We view this as a pilot. The municipality, in this case, Boston has stepped up to fund it, and we are in the middle of a joint evaluation of it.”

The MBTA will continue to evaluate the program throughout the next two years and plan to cooperate with municipal partners who want to do this type of work.

“There are some larger structural questions that I know that the mayor has been deeply involved in,” he added. “We look forward to continuing that conversation.”

The city will reimburse the MBTA for lost fare revenue, using $8 million from a COVID-19 relief fund that Boston got from the federal government.

Wu said the city will need to find a sustainable source of funding to keep fare-free after the two years expires. This will take partnership between state and federal leaders, she said.

The routes included in the free fare pilot are 23, 28 and 29 and predominantly serve low-income individuals and people of color, according to a LivableStreets report.

“We are grateful to be able to apply some of the federal relief funds for the pandemic to this. It is a perfect use of it because these very communities are some were disproportionately impacted by every aspect of the pandemic,” Wu said. “This is very much about pouring those resources back into recovery, back into our families pockets and into our small businesses as well.”

There is also legislation at the State House and at the federal level regarding making this program financially sustainable in the long run.

Ridership on the 28 bus route, which is is the most commonly used, shot up when it first went free in August under former Mayor Kim Janey.

An analysis from the city suggested that free fare also reduced the amount of time the bus stopped by more than 20 percent. This helps riders get to work on time, as well as reduces greenhouse gases.

“Black people spend 64 more hours of their life per year riding on public transit than white people,” Director of Transit Oriented Development at Alternatives for Community and Environment Mela Bush Miles said. “We are going to add that more time into our life.”

“Three free bus routes is just the beginning, we are so excited about this pilot,” she added in a press release. “Public transportation needs to be free for all and should be funded in the same way as other public services. Greener, cleaner, faster and affordable buses is a win for everybody whether they use public transit or not. Free the T!”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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