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15 Cities and Towns Ask the T to Streamline Agreements for Fare-Free Bus Programs

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.

On Thursday morning, just before the MBTA's monthly board meeting, elected officials representing 15 cities and towns across eastern and central Massachusetts asked the MBTA to streamline and standardize the process for implementing fare-free bus programs.

In a letter addressed to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, 30 elected officials from 15 municipalities across the MBTA service area asked state officials to work with them to design "a fair, equitable, and standardized process for implementing fare-free bus pilots, and potentially permanent fare-free service on specific MBTA bus routes."

Last summer, the administration of Mayor Kim Janey Mayor negotiated with the MBTA to roll out a pilot program that offered fare-free rides on the MBTA’s Route 28 bus route – the Commonwealth’s busiest bus route – for three months. Under that agreement, the City of Boston agreed to pay $500,000 to compensate the MBTA for the lost fare revenue on the 28 and for adjacent The Ride paratransit services over the length of the pilot.

That pilot has proven to be extremely popular. Janey's successor, Mayor Michelle Wu, has extended the length of that pilot several times, and has also committed city funding to expand the fare-free service model to two other bus routes in Dorchester and Mattapan.

Leaders in Brookline and Cambridge have also expressed interest in bringing fare-free service to parts of their own communities – particularly on busy routes that cross municipal boundaries, like the 66. But doing so will require cooperation from the T.

“The success of the fare-free bus pilots in Boston and Worcester has made Cambridge and other communities excited about putting local funds toward pilots as well," said Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui in a press release accompanying the letter on Thursday morning. "A standardized review and implementation process from the MBTA would be a huge help as we move this partnership forward."

The letter also cites the decade-old agreement between the MBTA and Massport for fare-free Silver Line service from Logan Airport as a potential framework for other agreements with cities and towns.

"The fare-free Silver Line from Logan Airport has proven to be successful for years helping to reduce traffic congestion and improve travel for residents and others," the 30 elected leaders write in their letter to Poftak. "That model of allocating funding for service based on operating costs is one that could be replicated in the MBTA region."

The letter also claims that the elected officials are working with the State Legislature to secure funding that could sustain permanent fare-free bus service on some routes.

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