Local Bus Rides Become Free Next March; Federal Relief Money Will Cover Fares

Congresswoman Lori Trahan and state Reps. Christina Minicucci and Andy X. Vargas tour the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority.

Taking a local bus will be free starting next March as the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority begins a two-year pilot aimed partly at winning back riders lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transit Authority board members voted unanimously Wednesday to go fare-free for all local fixed route and EZ Trans paratransit services starting March 1. Fares will still be collected on the Boston Commuter bus. The Transit Authority is replacing fares lost during the pilot with federal money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan Act. Bus service officials noted the loss of fares is not as significant as one might think because of the “high cost and inefficiency of collecting fares.”

“For every dollar we collect in fares, we only see less than 24 cents when the fully allocated costs of collecting fares are factored in,” said MVRTA Administrator Noah Berger.

Besides winning back riders, officials said, advantages of a fare free transit system include returning dollars back to the local economy, increased access for people having a hard time affording transportation, faster and more efficient trips and reduced conflicts between drivers and passengers.

The pilot is an expansion of a City of Lawrence effort where the city has covered fares on three local routes in Lawrence since September, 2019. Several elected officials praised the new pilot project, including Congresswoman Lori Trahan and state Rep. Andy X. Vargas.

Trahan called “the decision to waive fares for Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority riders a game-changer for folks across the region who rely on public transit for their commutes.”

Vargas said he applauds the vote by advisory board members. “The MVRTA provides vital transit services to residents in greater Haverhill. Low-income residents are especially reliant on these local bus routes and removing fares is one more way we can provide families with financial relief and help them get to their jobs and other obligations. It will also increase ridership long-term, which is necessary for a robust economy,” he said in a statement.

MVRTA spokesperson Niorka Mendez added, “going fare-free will attract new riders, increase patronage of our local businesses, offer economic relief to families that rely on our service, and connect people to jobs and other economic opportunities.”

Comments are closed.