Mayor Wu Extends Free Fares on Bus Routes 23, 28, and 29 for Two More Years
Mayor Michelle Wu today announced the City of Boston is extending the successful fare free bus program on Routes 23, 28, and 29 until March of 2026. The current fare free program on these three MBTA routes, announced early in Mayor Wu’s administration, was set to end in late February of 2024. Today the Mayor announced the City will continue to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to reimburse the MBTA for an additional two years. These bus routes run along some of the highest ridership bus corridors in the City of Boston, with over half of riders on Routes 23, 28, and 29 classified as low income. The fare free program has saved transit-critical riders money, increased ridership on these routes, and maintained steady travel times despite an influx of riders.
“Fare free bus routes have been proven to make public transportation more convenient, accessible, and affordable for our residents who depend on transit to get to work and school,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “Community members have emphasized that this program helps them save money, and encourages more trips without worrying about exact change or rationing travel. Since this program started, we have seen similar initiatives take off around the Commonwealth and the country. I’m thankful to our partners at the MBTA and the Healey administration for our ongoing collaborative work to improve transportation options throughout our City.”
“Fare free buses simplify the riding experience and make trips faster and more reliable,” said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Chief of Streets. “They help riders spend less time and money commuting and allow them to spend more time with their families. We thank the MBTA for their partnership with this pilot and look forward to learning more about how fare free transit can positively impact our city streets.”
“We are thankful to Mayor Wu and the City of Boston for their continued support,” said Phillip Eng, MBTA General Manager and CEO.“We have a common goal in making mass transit more affordable. Our combined efforts, from Boston’s fare-free bus program to Governor Healey’s proposed Low Income Fare Program, are benefiting communities who take all different modes of transit – buses, subways, commuter rail, ferries, or paratransit. We are improving people’s quality of life and making a real difference, building a more equitable and affordable transportation system network for all who depend on it.”
The City of Boston worked with Stantec to measure how free fares are saving more riders money and time while increasing ridership on these three bus routes. Over the course of the program (since spring 2022), more than 12 million trips were taken on the free routes creating an estimated savings of more than $6 million for riders. About 50% of riders are saving money, on average, saving $35 per month (as of fall 2023). The other half of riders are not saving money because they purchase a pass or always transfer to another transit service.
According to data from the MBTA, Route 23 is at 94% of pre-pandemic ridership, Route 28 is at 102%, and Route 29 is at 64% (as of October 2023). Average dwell times have decreased on Routes 23 and 28. The City will use $350,000 per month in ARPA funding for the extension of the program.
“I just thank God for it because even though I have a car, I don't like driving my car all the time because you got to keep paying for gas,” said Arrachael Miller, a rider of the fare free bus. “It is a struggle when you don't have income coming in on the regular. To have a free bus is really good.”
Fare free programs have been gaining momentum around Massachusetts and nationally since the City of Boston launched three free routes in March of 2022. Merrimack Valley Transit (MeVA Transit), which serves about 2.8 million riders a year, adopted free fares on all its bus and paratransit routes in March of 2022.
“Boston, Merrimack Valley, Worcester and many other communities across the country have demonstrated bold leadership in the face of strong skepticism,” said Stacy Thompson, Executive Director of LivableStreets Alliance. “But the last few years, and thousands of happy bus riders, have proven that fare free buses are a straightforward way to increase transit ridership, ease financial burden for many, and bring a little joy back to the T. The success of Boston’s fare free bus program is undeniable and we’re thrilled that Boston is extending this program.”
“MeVa Transit—the regional transit authority serving the sixteen cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley—has been fare free systemwide since March of 2022 and the results have been unassailable. Since going fare free, fixed route bus ridership through December 2023 has more than tripled and now exceeds pre-pandemic levels by over 60%, while passenger complaints are down a third,” said Noah Berger, MeVA Administrator. “Bus trips are faster and drivers are happier because they no longer have to police the fare policy—as a result, we are one of the few transit authorities across the country that has been able to grow its driver workforce in the midst of a national driver shortage. The origins of MeVa’s fare free initiative trace back to Mayor Wu and a conversation she had, while still a City Councilor, with then Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera at the Commonwealth Summit back in 2019. Inspired by their discussion, Mayor Rivera used City of Lawrence funds to cover the fares on three Lawrence routes—an initiative that three years later was expanded to the entire system, from Andover to Salisbury and everywhere in between. Here in the Merrimack Valley, we are grateful to Mayor Wu for her founding role in bringing free fares to our riders and consider her to be an honorary member of the Merrimack Valley!”
The 23 Bus route (Ashmont to Dorchester Center, Grove Hall & Ruggles), the 28 Bus route (Mattapan Square, up Blue Hill Ave. to Nubian Square & Ruggles) and the 29 Bus route (Mattapan Square, up Blue Hill Ave. to Jackson Square) each serve a diverse ridership, and all three travel through and along Blue Hill Avenue, an important corridor connecting riders who are underserved by the existing transit network. These three routes are some of the routes with the highest ridership throughout the City of Boston, running past schools, libraries, and several Boston Housing Authority developments.
The extension of fare free bus routes builds on Mayor Wu’s commitment to increase affordable, sustainable, and convenient transportation for Boston’s residents. Mayor Wu recently launched the Commute with Me series on social media, highlighting the daily experiences of Boston residents commuting to work via public transportation. Watch the first two videos here and here. In October, Mayor Wu announced the Boston Bikes Pass, a discounted annual Bluebikes membership for Boston residents that saves residents more than half the cost of the annual rate, and an even more discounted annual pass for income-eligible Boston residents. The City continues to make progress on the Safety Surge announced last spring, installing zones of speed humps and redesigning intersections and traffic signals to slow down traffic on residential streets and reduce conflicts between drivers, pedestrians, and bike riders.
For more information on the fare-free bus program and the extension, visit www.boston.gov/free-bus .