MA: WRTA to extend fare-free service through June 2025 following board vote

April 19, 2024
The extension of the fare-free program was part of the WRTA’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget, which was also approved on Thursday.

Bus riders in Worcester won’t have to worry about fees until next year as the Worcester Regional Transit Authority’s (WRTA) advisory board voted unanimously Thursday to extend the agency’s fare-free program until June 2025.

And advocates are hailing the move.

The Zero Fare Coalition, an advocacy group that supports fare-free transportation in Worcester County, wrote on X that Thursday’s unanimous vote was a victory for advocates and bus riders alike.

“Thank you to the WRTA for today’s unanimous vote extending free fares through June 2025 and continuing to lead in fare-equity as the longest-running fare-free regional transit system in the U.S.,” the organization wrote. “A HUGE thank you to all the advocates & riders for your advocacy.”

The extension of the fare-free program was part of the WRTA’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget, which was also approved on Thursday.

According to a presentation by Deputy WRTA Administrator and CFO Tom Coyne, the transit agency’s $37.25 million fiscal blueprint for the new fiscal year that starts July 1 allocates $4.5 million in CARES Act funds toward continuing operations, such as the fare-free program.

WRTA Advisory Board Chairman Doug Belanger told his colleagues that the FY2025 budget was balanced and that he favored its approval, the Telegram & Gazette newspaper, of Worcester. reported Thursday.

The WRTA first implemented the fare-free bus program in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, the advisory board voted to renew the program, allocating funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress, and signed into law by former President Donald Trump, on March 27, 2020.

The WRTA has renewed the program for the last four years, making Thursday’s vote the fifth time they’ve done so.

The fare-free bus service is popular not only in the eyes of the advisory board and advocacy groups but also among residents in Worcester.

A poll released on March 22 by the MassINC Polling Group found that 70% of Worcester residents supported the extension of the fare-free program for the fifth year in a row. The polls results show that the fare-free program was the most popular among respondents who regularly take the bus and those who make less than $50,000 yearly.

Additionally, the poll found that 45% of respondents said they are less likely to take the bus if the fare-free program ends. The survey results correlate with data from Coyne’s presentation, which found that ridership continued to increase after the fare-free program was implemented in 2020.

The fare-free service will continue until June 2025 unless the WRTA decides to renew the service for a sixth time.

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