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RTAs Are Giving Their Riders A Holiday Bonus

1:12 PM EST on November 21, 2022

Riders check out a newly-rebranded Merrimack Valley Transit bus, with colorful red, blue, and orange stripes wrapped around this bus, next to a fall-themed park with haybales, mums, and pumpkins in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In the background are several triple-decker apartment buildings. Courtesy of Merrimack Valley Transit.

A newly-rebranded Merrimack Valley Transit bus in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Courtesy of MeVa.

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Building off successful fare-free programs in the Worcester area, Merrimack Valley, and elsewhere, all 15 of the commonwealth's Regional Transit Authorities (every non-MBTA bus route in the state, in other words) will suspend fare collection for the holiday season, from this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, until New Year's Eve.

MassDOT is funding the initiative with a $2.5 million grant. The funding comes from the legislature's budgeted $96.5 million in operating assistance for RTAs in the current fiscal year.

For agencies that have already committed to fare-free service, the funding will allow for even longer periods of fare-free service. Merrimack Valley Transit (MeVa), for instance, had already committed to two years' worth of fare-free service in March 2022, when the agency removed its obsolete fareboxes from buses instead of paying to replace them.

"The additional MassDOT funding will allow MeVa to remain fare free for an additional six weeks, or until Patriots Day 2024, before having to make long term revenue determinations," according to a press statement from Niorka Méndez, MeVa's Director of Communications.

MeVa’s fare free initiative has been a boon to the entire Merrimack Valley and we couldn’t be prouder that MassDOT is seeking to emulate our success this holiday season across Massachusetts," said Méndez.

Méndez also noted that MeVa’s ridership has gone up "a whopping 121.3 percent" on its fixed-route bus lines since the agency suspended fares. Other benefits include less time wasted at bus stops, since riders no longer have to wait in line or fumble for change to pay, and a significant decrease in the overall number of rider complaints.

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