City Hall, MBTA Extend Fare-Free 28 Pilot in Boston

A route 28 bus advertising the fare-free pilot passes through Grove Hall on Blue Hill Avenue on October 5, 2021.A route 28 bus advertising the fare-free pilot passes through Grove Hall on Blue Hill Avenue on October 5, 2021.
A route 28 bus advertising the fare-free pilot passes through Grove Hall on Blue Hill Avenue on October 5, 2021.

The MBTA announced on Monday that a pilot program to suspend fare collections on the MBTA’s Route 28 bus route, which serves Warren Street and Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury and Mattapan, will be extended one more month to run through the end of the calendar year.

The original pilot program was due to expire on November 29.

But on Monday afternoon, the MBTA’s official website for the pilot had been updated to state that “service on Route 28 will be free for four months from Sunday, August 29 through Monday, December 31, 2021.”

As reported here last month, the fare-free pilot on the 28 has contributed to a surge in bus ridership on the route. After ending fare collection in early September, ridership on the 28 climbed steeply, and plateaued around 11,000 trips per weekday – about 92 percent of the route’s pre-pandemic average from September 2019.

Ridership on the rest of the T’s bus routes, meanwhile, remains around 2/3rds of pre-pandemic ridership levels.

Fare-Free 28 Is a Hit With Roxbury, Mattapan Bus Riders

According to a Boston Transportation Department (BTD) spokesperson, the fare-free 28 pilot program has been running under budget compared to initial budget projections, which has preserved sufficient funding to keep the pilot going for one more month.

The City of Boston is using previously-allocated American Rescue Plan Funding to reimburse the MTBA for the value of the fares it would otherwise collect. While ridership has been strong, the city’s pre-pilot budget assumptions had been intentionally conservative, and had planned for even higher levels of ridership.

More significantly, bookings on parallel The Ride paratransit trips, which are also free for the duration of the pilot, have been lower than city officials had initially projected. The cost per ride of trips on The Ride, and the corresponding reimbursement rate that the City of Boston is paying the T for the duration of the pilot, are roughly 50 times more expensive than bus trips on the 28.

Fare-free buses were also a major plank in Mayor-elect Michelle Wu’s campaign, but a BTD spokesperson wrote in an email message that “there was no coordination with the Mayor Elect’s team on this decision” to extend the fare-free pilot program.

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