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Worcester RTA Board Votes to Extend Fare-Free Buses Through 2025

The WRTA’s downtown bus hub, next to Worcester’s Union Station.

The governing board of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) has formally voted to extend fare-free operations into mid-2025, extending the agency's distinction as the longest-running fare-free transit network in the United States.

Worcester's buses have been operating without fare collections since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020, and is one of the few transit agencies where current post-pandemic ridership is considerably higher than it was before the pandemic began.

The agency served over 4 million fare-free bus trips last year, compared to 2.9 million rides in 2019.

The policy has had robust public support from the Worcester Zero Fare Coalition, which includes the Chamber of Commerce, environmental groups, public health advocates, and social justice activists.

“Free fare has not only grown ridership, but it has also greatly increased the opportunity for members of the community to have access to jobs in and around the city," said Tim Murray, President and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, in a press statement issued on Thursday.

Historically, the WRTA received about $4 million a year from fares.

Since 2020, the WRTA has used federal pandemic relief funding to compensate for that lost fare revenue.

Last year, the WRTA also received a $2 million grant from a new $15 million line-item in the state budget designed to subsidize fare-free service at regional transit authorities. The Governor's budget proposal would renew that $15 million funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

According to WRTA administrator Joshua Rickman, the WRTA also plans to use some of its remaining pandemic relief funding to cover the balance of its the missing fare revenue for the next fiscal year.

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