Zero Fare policies gain traction as cities push for free buses

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Zero Fare policies gain traction as cities push for free buses

(NewsNation) — Bus fare could soon become a thing of the past as a nationwide movement for “Zero Fare” policies on citywide public bus systems grows. 

New Yorkers are calling on elected officials to eliminate fares for public buses by finding alternate funding in order to address equity issues and drive ridership. Supporters of making bus rides free argue that public transit should be treated as an “essential service,” like those provided by police and fire departments. 

The push from New York City comes following the passing of Zero Fare policy in Washington D.C. The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to eliminate Metrobus fares starting July 1, along with expanding bus service to better serve late night workers who rely on public transit. 

Earlier this month, the Boston City Council also voted on free bus fare, making three MBTA routes fare free for at least two years. The council passed the use of $8 million in federal pandemic relief to fund this initiative 12-1, with supporters arguing the program will serve the communities most impacted by COVID-19. 

D.C. and Boston’s moves towards zero fare bus policies are important, but not new. In 2019 Kansas City, Missouri, became America’s first big city to institute free public transportation, and has seen great success in increasing access to different parts of the city. In 2021, Alexandria, Virginia, launched DASH, a fare-free bus network that encouraged more people to use transit at more times of the day. 

While lost the lost revenue from public transportation riders is concerning, cities stand to save a lot on fare-evading monitoring. According to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the service spent $40 million over four years on anti-fare evasion technology and labor. Advocacy groups argue that most fare evaders are both first-time offenders and disproportionately low-income Black and Hispanic individuals. By eliminating fare altogether, anti-fare evasion costs would be eliminated as well, affording more freedoms to those who may lack the disposable income for fares, advocates claim.

Though the list of cities currently offering no-fare bus service is short, the support for such programs is increasing in popularity. The COVID-19 pandemic served as an important catalyst in the movement, exposing harsh economic realities for many communities in the U.S. While some funding options, like new taxes or tolls, might be a tough sell with residents who don’t use public transit, the economic and social benefits grow more attractive by the day.

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