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Poll Finds Overwhelming Public Support for Worcester’s Fare-Free Buses

A new MassINC poll of residents who live in the greater Worcester region found that the public overwhelmingly supports the city's fare-free bus program, which as been in place since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a survey of 500 people living in the 16-town service area of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA), pollsters asked "how much would you support or oppose continuing fare-free service on the WRTA?"

54 percent of respondents said that they "strongly support" fare-free service, and another 16 percent said that they "somewhat support" it.

Just 21 percent of respondents said that they "stongly" or "somewhat" opposed the policy.

A pie chart illustrating poll results for the question "do you support or oppose continuing fare-free WRTA service"? A heading on the chart says "WRTA residents strongly support continuing fare-free service". The pie chart's largest slice, taking up over half of the circle, represents the 54% who said that they "strongly support" fare-free buses. The next-biggest slice, making up about 1/6th of the pie, represents people who said they "somewhat support" the policy (16%). Smaller slices represent people who said they "somewhat oppose" (9%) or "strongly oppose" (12%) and "don't know" (9%)

In a press statement accompanying the poll results, Richard Parr, Senior Research Director of The MassINC Polling Group, observed that “it’s pretty unusual to see an outright majority ‘strongly support’ any public policy. Free fares seem to be an idea that residents see as working and that they want to continue.”

Ridership data show that Worcester's fare-free buses have been more successful at retaining riders compared to other transit agencies in the Commonwealth, in spite of the agency's struggles to recruit and retain bus drivers.

The 2024 state budget gave the WRTA and other regional transit authorities – the transit operators that serve areas of the Commonwealth outside of the MBTA service area – a major increase in state funding. Lawmakers earmarked some of those funds specifically for expanded fare-free transit programs.

In their budget proposal for 2025, the Healey administration has proposed flat-funding the state's financial support for fare-free programs, which would amount to a 2 to 3 percent budget cut when inflation is taken into account.

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