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Main Streets subsidized public transit pilot

To support the COVID-19 recovery, we ran a pilot offering preloaded MBTA passes and Bluebikes passes for the first 1,000 employees who sign up for the program in five Main Streets Districts: Nubian Square, Three Squares (Jamaica Plain), Mission Hill, East Boston, and Fields Corner. 

Note: The pilot program has ended. If you are an essential worker you may qualify for free Bluebikes passes.

This pilot program offered 1,000 Main Street employees preloaded MBTA and Bluebikes passes for May and June 2021. Over the initial four weeks, half  of the program participants received cards loaded with $60, while the other half received cards loaded with $5. The second group subsequently received a second card loaded with $55. 

We used ridership data, surveys, and interviews to learn about how people used the subsidies and if they drove less and rode public transit more. 

Results of the pilot

Read about the results of the pilot:

Read the Report


  • MBTA transit incentives increase MBTA ridership, even among those with car access. Participants with $60 passes rode the bus or subway an average of 8.29 times during the first four weeks of the program, compared to 2.05 rides for those with the $5 cards — an increase of 304.4%.
  • Transit incentives reduced financial stress for Main Streets Districts employees. Participants time and again cited how the transit incentives reduced financial hardship they faced. It eased financial decisions and provided more support during this difficult time. In one example, a participant became homeless during the program. But, the preloaded card allowed them to continue going into work.
  • People liked using Bluebikes, especially those without car access. People without car access took an average of almost 9 trips on Bluebikes, whereas people with car access used Bluebikes just 2.4 times during the eight-week program. Participants who used Bluebikes enjoyed riding them. The program did convert some Bluebikes skeptics to try the program and persist in using it beyond the free program period.
Qualifying Main Streets for Public Transit Pilot

Map of the Pilot Area

Employees qualified for the program if their employer was in any of the five small business districts on the map (highlighted in red)
Show Map

Program purpose

The pilot supported COVID-19 equitable recovery efforts. You can read about the results of the pilot in the "Read the Report" section.

Employees in Nubian Square, Three Squares (Jamaica Plain), Mission Hill, East Boston, and Fields Corner were encouraged to apply to the program for the following reasons:

  • All five pilot Main Streets Districts are served by either an MBTA subway line or Bluebikes. All employees in the selected Main Streets are within walking distance of a Bluebikes station, bus route, and subway line. They can take a bus or subway line or use a Bluebikes station without having to worry about maintenance or carrying a lock.
  • The MBTA and Bluebikes are safe, sustainable commuting options. Congestion is expected to increase post-COVID. It's a big issue for Main Streets small businesses. The program incentivizes a safe and sustainable alternative to driving to work.
  • Fewer Main Streets employees driving means more space on the curb for driving customers. Employees who drive often park on the curb for long periods of time. Providing employees with a sustainable alternative means those spaces are freed up for customers.

Common questions

Common questions

Yes! The MBTA has taken precautions to make stations, subways, and buses safe for riders. All MBTA locations are disinfected every 24 hours. All high-contact areas at subway stations — handrails, fare gates, and fare vending machines — are cleaned every four hours. In addition, hand sanitizing dispensers, disinfectant wipes, and cleaning sprays have been deployed at MBTA facilities and stations throughout the system. There is also a systemwide mask mandate on all MBTA vehicles and property.

You can learn more about how the MBTA is protecting your health.

Registration for the pilot program is now closedIf you have submitted an application, our staff will review it and will get back to you over the next few weeks. If you are eligible, we will mail you your CharlieCard at the address you specify. If you choose a Bluebikes pass, you’ll receive instructions to enroll at the Bluebikes website. You will need to enter a valid credit or debit card number. You will be charged for any incidental fees. These include, for example, overtime fees for trips longer than 45 minutes. 

We are working on expanding this pilot to other Main Streets Districts.

For Bluebikes, discounted passes are available for income-eligible people. If you are an essential worker, you may qualify for free Bluebikes passes.

There are also discounted MBTA passes for eligible riders.

Participants will be randomly selected to receive different values on their CharlieCards. This will help us determine how impactful financial incentives are on commuting behavior. You will receive the remaining $55 in a few weeks on a new CharlieCard. In the meantime, please use the current CharlieCard for all trips you take until you receive the next card.

Yes! You can add more money on the CharlieCard we send you at an MBTA station with a fare box.

Bluebikes is public transportation by bike! With nearly 4,000 bikes and 400 stations, it's a fast, fun, and affordable way to get around:

  • Boston
  • Brookline
  • Cambridge
  • Somerville, and
  • Everett.

With a Bluebikes pass, you can check out a bike from any station and return to any other station throughout the service area.

The Bluebikes stations are distributed throughout the metro Boston area. Trips must start and end at stations. But, you can ride anywhere where bikes are allowed in between stations. The first 45-minutes of each trip are covered by your pass. If you ride on the same bike for longer, overtime fees will apply (like late library books!).

After successful registration, you will be able to unlock bikes at any station. You can use the mobile app or dip your credit or debit card into the kiosk.

Return the bike to any Bluebikes station. If the station is full, you can request a free 15-minute extension at the kiosk and head to another station nearby.

Be sure to push the bike into an empty dock. Wait until you get the green light to be sure it is locked properly. You are responsible for returning the bike properly to a station. Fees apply if you do not.

The Bluebikes two-month pass will begin as soon as you complete your enrollment on the Bluebikes website.

The program is free if you keep every trip to 45 minutes or less and make sure you lock your bike at a station at the end of every trip. Trips longer than 45 minutes will incur an extra $2.00 per additional 30 minutes.

Your pass will become inactive. If you want to keep riding, you can switch to an annual or monthly membership. Discounted passes are available for income-eligible people.

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