Boston Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge mentioned the fee financial savings to customers and elevated ridership recorded midway by means of the town’s fare-free bus pilot makes a robust case for eradicating fares on different types of public transportation.
A metropolis evaluation, launched Tuesday, confirmed 42% of riders utilizing the three free bus routes in Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester saved cash within the first 12 months of this system. Twenty-six % saved $20 or extra in October, which may end in a two-year financial savings of $480.
Further, ridership elevated by 35% on these three fare-free routes, 23, 28 and 29, from the autumn of 2021 to fall 2022, in comparison with the 15% uptick seen all through the MBTA system, the report said.
“We’ve seen ridership growth on these three lines significantly outpace growth on the system as a whole,” Franklin-Hodge mentioned. “And we’ve seen that development be absorbed by the buses with out growing delay or decreasing efficiency of the bus.
“All of which goes to show that a fare-free bus can be a better-performing bus when you don’t have that delay as people get on board. You can open up the doors and everybody just hops on.”
The metropolis discovered that by eradicating cost, buses can tackle extra passengers with out including time to the journey, an vital discovering, he mentioned, “if you look at it through the lens of how to make our transit system more reliable and consistent over time.”
“On the whole, we’re very happy with what we’re finding here,” Franklin-Hodge mentioned. “We suppose it’s in line with the speculation we went into this mission with, that fare-free would ship a wide range of advantages to riders within the system as a complete.
“And we think this strengthens the case for really looking at removing the fare box on more of our transit services.”
What isn’t clear at this level within the two-year program, although, is what funding will change into accessible to maintain the prevailing mannequin, and a possible intercommunity enlargement, Franklin-Hodge mentioned.
The fare-free pilot on Routes 23, 28 and 29 is being funded by means of the town’s $8 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation, which is getting used to reimburse the MBTA for the price of working free buses.
Franklin-Hodge mentioned $6 million of that funding was used for design and implementation of the pilot, leaving roughly $2 million for a possible enlargement of this system.
“We have a bit of money that we had set aside as part of the original funding package that would be used to expand this beyond the three routes currently in the program to include an intermunicipal route, perhaps with one of our neighbors,” Franklin-Hodge mentioned.
“So we’re in conversations with some of our surrounding communities about that. And as we look to next year, we are beginning our conversations with our partners at the state, with the governor’s office, with the MBTA and others about what a long-term funding strategy and programmatic strategy would look like.”
He pointed to help from Gov. Maura Healey, who spoke about her need for a statewide fare-free bus initiative on the marketing campaign path.
Continuing to supply the present mannequin for these three routes, two of that are the heaviest-traveled strains within the MBTA bus system, would value about $3 million per 12 months, Franklin-Hodge mentioned.
Another municipality would decide up a part of the tab with an inter-community enlargement, primarily based on a reimbursement system that considers ridership ranges and the proportion of riders who transferred to a different service that isn’t free, he mentioned.
“We’re still working through all the math of this, but ultimately, the source of city funding on the Boston side would continue to be ARPA,” Franklin-Hodge mentioned.
The metropolis is exploring partnerships with Chelsea, Everett and Cambridge, the latter of which shaped a working group final 12 months to discover a fare-free bus pilot primarily based on Boston’s mannequin, he mentioned.
“We are actively working on a fare-free bus pilot based on the recommendations of our working group,” Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui mentioned in an announcement.
“We are focused on the number 1 bus route, a key connection between Cambridge and Boston serving a diverse population, and look forward to continued collaboration with the MBTA and the City of Boston.”
While 42% of riders saved cash, the bulk didn’t as a result of they continued to switch to different bus or subway strains or bought month-to-month passes to take care of entry to the broader community, the town evaluation discovered.
This matches the findings of the MBTA’s fare coverage workforce, which beneficial in October that half-price fares for riders throughout the transit system would make extra sense than fare-free buses.
A method-tested fare choice would value the T between $46 million and $58 million, however the fee to make all buses free would improve considerably to $94-$141 million, the company mentioned in October.
“The MBTA has received the report and is reviewing it.” T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo mentioned. “The MBTA looks forward to continuing its partnership with the city on the existing program.”