Elected and Business Leaders to Celebrate Launch of Free Valley Bus Service Next Week

MeVa Transit Administrator and CEO Noah S. Berger. (Courtesy photograph.)

Members of Congress, area mayors and local business people will be on hand next Monday when the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority celebrates the launch of free bus service the next day.

The two-year pilot is aimed partly at winning back riders lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. MVRTA Administrator and CEO Noah S. Berger said free, system wide bus fares beginning March 1 are being welcomed.

“We have a bunch of dignitaries that will be coming. We’ll have both of our members of Congress, Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton, coming out. We have all five of our mayors, Mayor (Brian) DePeña, (James J.) Fiorentini, (Neil) Perry, (Kassandra) Gove and Sean Reardon. We have all of our legislative delegates and we also have riders. We have small business owners. We have regular people and community groups, who have been pushing for this,” he told WHAV morning show listeners recently.

Berger said Monday’s program starts at 11 a.m., at the Buckley Transportation Center, 290 Common St., Lawrence, and is also open to the public. As far as going “fare free” for the next two years, Berger says it’s not a “radical idea.”

“I don’t think I would have been able to say that if we were doing that only a couple of years ago. We looked at it and for every dollar we collect in the fare box we really only see 23.9 cents because when you fully allocate what the costs are, there’s the cost of the money room, the cost of the armored car, the fare boxes—all that when you factor it in, It just turned out to be a really inefficient way of generating revenue,” he said.

Berger said during the next two years, the Authority’s board of directors will be working to determine what the long-term fare model will be, and look for other revenue streams to keep it going. In any event, he said, they won’t be going back to the “old school fare box system.” He explained the fare boxes will be removed from buses and sold to other transit authorities around the country who are still using them.

As WHAV reported at the time, Transit Authority board members voted unanimously last December 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. Lost fares are being replaced with federal money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan Act.

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