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Free or Discounted Transit Movement Grows in Massachusetts

Boston’s new Mayor Michelle Wu has already added two free bus routes and a new poll finds approval for fare-free transit and especially strong support for giving low-income Massachusetts residents reduced fares.

TNS — Bay State voters are starting to get on board with reduced fare or free public transit.

A survey of over 1,000 voters released Wednesday by polling group MassINC found strong support for both, with especially strong support for reduced fares in low-income neighborhoods.

Specifically, 49% of those surveyed "strongly support" giving low-income Massachusetts residents reduced fares to ride public transit, while 30% somewhat supported the idea. Just 14% somewhat or strongly opposed the idea, and 8% were unsure.

Pollsters also found strong support for some modes of free transportation: 42% of those surveyed late last month strongly supported free public buses serving low-income neighborhoods, while another 29% somewhat supported it.

This question tracks with policies enacted by former Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey on bus route 28, and continued and expanded by Mayor Michelle Wu, who added two more routes and two more years to the program Janey began.

Wu has made the "Free the T" movement a major component of her platform in her run for mayor, while Beacon Hill, including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, has been less receptive to the idea.

"Somebody's going to have to come up with a lot of money from somebody, and I do think if the city of Boston is willing to pay to give free T to the residents of the city of Boston, that's certainly worth the conversation, I suppose," Baker previously said.

The MassINC poll also found that 31% of respondents strongly support making all public buses free and another 30% somewhat agree, 28% strongly support and 30% somewhat support making the subways and trolleys free. The Commuter Rail and ferries were the most split, with 27% strongly agreeing it should be free, another 27% somewhat agreeing, 20% somewhat opposed, 15% strongly opposed, and 11% unsure.

"Voters continue to be clear that investing in our transportation system is critical to our state's future," said Josh Ostroff, interim director of Transportation for Massachusetts, in a statement. "In a time of worsening inequality, it is notable that as voters support taxing the wealthiest to help modernize transportation, they also support making public transit more affordable for low-income riders — an idea passed by the legislature, but vetoed by Governor Baker a year ago."

Ostroff called on all Bay State politicians to prioritize "equitable transportation investments and climate resilience," and to make good use of the influx of federal COVID relief dollars in state coffers.

Others were more skeptical. "Anytime you poll voters if they want 'free' stuff, they will always say yes," said Paul Diego Craney, spokesperson for conservative watchdog Mass Fiscal Alliance. "When you poll voters and include a cost, that is when you get a more reflective result to what the voters actually think of a policy."

(c)2022 the Boston Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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