Special to the Gazette
Mayor Michelle Wu on November 17 filed an appropriation order with the City Council for $8 million in federal funds to eliminate fares on the 23, 28 and 29 bus routes for a two-year period. Mayor Wu will seek to implement this program in close collaboration with the City Council and MBTA beginning early next year. This program builds on the 4-month fare-free 28 bus pilot program helmed by Mayor Janey.
While overall bus and subway ridership is at 53 percent of pre-pandemic weekday ridership, the free 28 bus saw ridership surge to 92% of pre-pandemic levels, making it the most popular in the system.
The 23 Bus line (Ashmont to Dorchester Center, Grove Hall & Ruggles) the 28 Bus line (Mattapan Square, up Blue Hill Ave, to Nubian Square & Ruggles) and the 29 Bus line (Mattapan Square, up Blue Hill Ave, to Jackson Square) each serves a diverse ridership, and each intersects with Blue Hill Ave, which has been identified by Livable Streets Alliance as one of the corridors that should be prioritized for improvements to increase reliability and boost ridership.
The two-year investment will allow the City of Boston and transit partners to measure the benefits of fare-free bus service, such as increased ridership, faster buses, less traffic, and business development along the route; ensure that word spreads across neighborhoods, and provide the opportunity for riders to integrate fare-free lines into their daily routines. The program also sets the foundation for Mayor Wu to build regional and state-level momentum for fare-free public transit, starting with buses.
“I am excited to take this key step towards a brighter transit future. Building on the fare-free 28 bus pilot created by Mayor Janey, we will expand access to transit across our neighborhoods, connecting more people to their schools, places of worship, small businesses, and community centers––and easing congestion on our bus riders and drivers alike. With stronger ties between our communities, we’ll reshape the boundaries of what’s possible in our city,” said Mayor Michelle Wu.
“This expansion of fare-free bus service is an important example of how municipal leadership can not only immediately improve the lives of Bostonians, but also set us on a path to a more just transit system for future generations. Fare-free bus service is an essential step in turning the page on a transit system that’s been overly dependent on fares, building momentum for treating public transit as a public good and recognizing the MBTA as the economic engine of our entire region,” said former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi.
“The answer to the question of how free transportation will work is: step by step, with an implementation that allows for fully examining the process. By adding two more routes to Mayor Janey’s initial pilot project of Route 28, Mayor Wu is addressing the issues of equity along with analyzing how more productive routes can be with both dedicated lanes and free bus service. With free service, we’ll grow ridership and make our city more fair for everyone!” said Tim Lasker, President of OPEIU Local 453.
“The fare-free bus pilot on these specific routes is a win-win-win for our community! Riders on these three bus routes will have one less thing to worry about: the fare. Lower transportation costs will put money back into the pockets of riders while leading to many other intangible benefits, like improved air quality––particularly important in these communities, which have higher than average asthma rates. We are hoping that public transit will be free for all in the near future,” said Mela Bush Miles, Director of Transit Oriented Development at Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE).
“As someone who has been riding the T for 30 years, this news is phenomenal! The 23 and 29 have been key, lifeline routes for over a century. The neighborhoods they serve shall benefit tremendously. Students, shoppers, and seniors, among others, will no longer need to second-guess their mobility,” said Stuart Spina, transit advocate and member of the T Riders Union.
“We are thrilled to hear about the expansion and extension of the free buses pilot in Boston–and we are proud that Boston has become a national leader in the free transit movement. What the City of Boston is demonstrating is that we don’t need dozens of studies and public meetings to advance free transit. The best method is to simply move forward with pilots, measure their success and then continue to expand the effort. The real winners of free transit are the thousands of riders who use the 28, 29 and — especially 23 who’s riders will also experience faster and more reliable bus service on the newly launched center running bus lane on Columbus Ave. We hope that other municipalities in the region will join Boston to advance additional free bus pilots across the region – and that the MBTA will continue to be a strong collaborator in this effort,” said Stacy Thompson, Executive Director of Livable Streets Alliance.