On her second full day as Mayor, Michelle Wu gathered with colleagues and transit activists at Ashmont Staton to announce the expansion of the fare-free bus pilot, which was started by Acting Mayor Kim Janey with free service on the Route 28 bus.
On November 17, Wu said she “filed an appropriation order with the Boston City Council to allocate $8 million in federal funding to expand our fare free bus program.”
Wu said that “early next year,” the pilot will be expanded from a four month program to a two year program “to truly see what’s possible.”
Additionally, the pilot will be expanded to two more routes—the 23 and the 29.
The program will continue on the 28 bus, which runs on Blue Hill Ave. from Mattapan Square to Ruggles Station. Wu said that the bus runs to the Longwood Medical Area, which she called “one of the fastest growing job centers.”
The 29 bus also runs up Blue Hill Ave. from Mattapan Square and ends at Jackson Square, passing Franklin Field and several apartment buildings, Wu said. The 23 bus originates at Ashmont and travels through Dorchester Center and ends at Ruggles, stopping near parks, playgrounds, the Dorchester YMCA, and Grove Hall.
“Each of these bus lines serves a ridership that reflects Boston,” Wu said, adding that over 59 percent of riders on these lines are low income, and 96 percent are people of color.
“So by taking this action, we truly will connect our communities and supercharge our recovery. putting these federal recovery funds to good use by supporting and investing in communities who have been hardest hit by this pandemic,” Wu said. “Free bus fare has already shown that this is the best way to attract riders back to public transit.”
Ridership on the 28 bus is now back “nearly at pre-pandemic levels,” Wu said, and the route has the highest ridership on the MBTA. “General bus and subway ridership is at only about a little over half of pre-pandemic weekday levels,” she said.
Stuart Spina of the T Riders Union said that “Mayor Wu’s proposal sets a gold standard for improving transit access, especially for those without automobiles and bicycles.”
He added “We don’t expect Dorchester High or the Fire Department to run a profit, and the T is no different. By investing public monies in a public service, we’re laying a new cornerstone for Greater Boston’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Stacy Thompson of the LivableStreets Alliance said, “I am here to celebrate this amazing expansion of free bus service, but I also want to drive home that we need to dispel the myth that we need to choose between free service and great service. We can have both, and we are implementing both.” She added, “this is the first step; I look forward to many, many more announcements as we expand and improve our transit service and Boston again leads on this issue.”
City Councilor Michael Flaherty said that he is aware of “the impacts that this program would have on families in the heart of the city,” and said that his “pledge” is to “make sure we continue moving this forward.”
Councilor Matt O’Malley also expressed his support, saying that “this will pass the Council.”
Councilor Andrea Campbell called the expansion “an equity initiative,” and said that Wu beginning her term with this initiative “sets the tone.”
Councilor-elect Erin Murphy said that she wants to ensure that people going to work and school are able to do so equitably, and she is “looking forward to the work ahead.”