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As Boston takes first step today, Wu releases vision for broader pilot and pathway to fare-free bus system

Released on: July 26, 2021

Boston, MA — City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu has released a white paper outlining the benefits of a fare-free bus system. Councilor Wu has championed the idea of fare-free transit in Boston for years, advocating for public transit as a public good, to be funded for universal access similar to public education and public libraries. Read the full paper.

Following her advocacy, then-Mayor of Lawrence Dan Rivera introduced fare-free buses in Lawrence, MA. The white paper evaluates the impacts of a fare-free bus system, which Wu has said can serve as a first step towards fare-free transit, specifically analyzing the benefits of a fare-free pilot of the 28, 66 and 116 bus routes. 

The paper found that benefits of three fare-free routes include:

  • Passenger savings on fares estimated at $1.01 million annually, concentrated among Boston’s lowest income households, with funds freed up to be invested back into the community;

  • Increased collection speeds and reduced “dwell time,” leading to time savings of about 1-2 seconds per passenger, that translates into increased productivity and lower costs for the MBTA;

  • The elimination of nearly 2,800 daily car rides and reduction of traffic congestion, preventing the emission of 1,730 annual metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; The reduction of local pollutants and smog from hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, lowering the risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, which disproportionately impact Boston’s residents of color;

  • Increased social engagement, reduced loneliness and depression, and other social and mental health benefits from increased connection and activity, particularly for Boston’s seniors, people living with disabilities, and lower-income families.

“Public transit is a public good. Eliminating fare collection on bus routes would speed up service, close racial disparities in transit access, serve our climate goals, and advance economic justice. In this critical moment of economic, social and emotional recovery, we must take every step to strengthen racial equity, eliminate barriers to opportunity and invest in accessible, equitable, reliable service in every community,” said Michelle Wu.

“Making bus trips free is an important way to underscore that public transit is a public good and should be treated as such. This report is an important contribution to the larger effort to think and act more sustainably, equitably and strategically about how we deliver vital public services. I’m grateful to Councilor Wu for keeping this at the forefront of our pathway to building a stronger, more equitable society,” said former state Transportation Secretary James Aloisi.

“Fare-free public transit is an investment in Boston’s economy and environment that will benefit all Bostonians - especially the city’s most vulnerable residents. When you look at the benefits relative to the costs, it just makes sense. Councilor Wu’s proposal gives Boston the opportunity to be a national and international leader in the next generation of more accessible, healthy, and cost-effective public transportation,” said lead author Alaina Boyle.