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Regional Transit Authorities

Worcester’s Buses Will Remain Fare-Free Through 2024

A WRTA bus in front of City Hall in downtown Worcester. Courtesy of WRTA.

In the regular monthly meeting of the advisory board for the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) on Thursday morning, board members unanimously voted to continue Worcester's zero-fare bus service through June 2024.

The vote distinguishes Worcester's transit system as the longest-running fare-free transit network in the United States. Worcester's buses have been operating without fare collections since the pandemic's shutdown in spring 2020, and while peer transit agencies across the nation have struggled to recover in the years since Covid-19 arrived, the WRTA’s ridership last year was over 20 percent higher than it was before the pandemic began.

Chart of pandemic bus ridership, WRTA vs. MBTA, BAT, Meva, and PVTA. The WRTA line is significantly higher than the others, up near 150% of pre-pandemic ridership levels in the summer of 2022.

In a press release issued Thursday morning, zero-fare advocates celebrated the board vote.

“Transportation is a significant expense for families – especially low-income families who rely on public transit systems like the WRTA to get to jobs, schools, medical appointments, and cultural and religious centers,” said Andy Saltzberg of the Worcester Zero Fare Coalition. “With the extension of the free-fare bus program, people and families in WRTA service areas will continue to have an affordable and equitable transit system we can all be proud of."

Worcester's fare-free policy has been financed by a surge in federal funding from various pandemic-relief bills. That funding is likely to last for a couple more years for the WRTA, but for the long term, a reliable source of increased state transit funding will be necessary for the agency to continue the policy and add more bus service for the riders who are flocking to the service.

Governor Healey's proposed budget included a modest increase for regional transit authorities (RTAs) like Worcester's transit system.

However, a revised budget proposal from the House Ways and Means Committee would increase RTA funding more significantly, with an additional $70 million for 2024 – a 74 percent increase in funding.

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