Some of Massachusetts’ federal representatives are renewing a push for free transit.
Late. Ed Markey and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, both Democrats, announced Monday that they are reintroducing the Freedom to Move Act, legislation that would allocate $25 billion over five years to support state and local transit agencies to create fare-free public transportation systems.
“We need fares because public transportation creates stronger economies, better health outcomes and greater access to education,” Markey said. “We need fare because low-income families spend nearly 30% of their household income on transportation. We need fare because enforcement of fares disproportionately affects people of color.”
“In particular, for Black Boston bus riders who drive, wait, transfer, another 64 hours a year, that’s another 64 hours to get to your work, to get to school, to get to a health care appointment, to come to childcare,” Pressley said. “When Senator Markey and I say this is literally about the freedom of movement, it’s so fundamental and so essential and something that should be an inherent right for everyone.”
Three bus routes in Boston have been free for a year, and city officials report they have been very popular.
Lawmakers point to the success of fare-free pilot programs in communities like Boston, Worcester and the Merrimack Valley.
“We know this works because we’ve measured every bit of it in Boston through these three bus routes that have been free for over a year now,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We know that compared to the whole system, these are the routes with the highest number of passengers, and it’s no accident.”
A mid-program report found that routes 23 and 29 are recovering ridership faster than the entire bus system since they became fares. About 15% of that fare is people taking trips they wouldn’t have taken at all.
“This actually saves us a little bit of money to spend on something essential, like food,” said Boston resident Connie Forbes. “It may seem small, but you know every penny counts.”
She joined lawmakers at their press conference in support of the legislation, noting that free fares don’t just benefit people who take public transportation.
“You’re making it possible for them to get to their jobs and be able to afford to keep those jobs because right now a lot of my neighbors are being priced out of this community and that’s actually going to help them be able and be able to provide the foundation for the city of Boston,” she said.
The bill would also help cover the costs of hiring more staff and paying for fuel, maintenance and personal protective equipment. It will also help pay for improving bus stops and pedestrian and bicycle shelters, redesigning bus routes and modernizing infrastructure, such as painted bus lanes, to help ease traffic congestion.
Pressley and Markey initially introduced the bill in 2020 and again in 2021, but it failed to pass Congress.
“We built the foundation and we have to go to work to get a majority,” Markey said. “Obviously a House of Representatives led by Kevin McCarthy is not the optimal environment to work in, but I can tell you that there is massive support among Democrats in the Senate, and we control the Senate, so we will continue to work to get a solution to the problem to ensure that there are more funds to get into the hands of great leaders like Mayor Wu.”
“We just need to reinforce the examples where this is proven and where we’ve seen people’s quality of life, and even their station in life, improve exponentially by having access to free public transportation,” Pressley said.