Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority Removes Fare Boxes and Ushers in Free Bus Service

A worker removes the last fare box from a Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority bus. (WHAV News photograph.)

(Additional photograph below.)

Federal, state and local officials were on hand as the last fare collection box was removed Monday morning from local buses, inaugurating free service.

In fact, Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority passengers began enjoying free rides a day early as Administrator Noah S. Berger explained.

“I said we were going to start going fare free March 1st, but we removed all of the fare boxes out of our buses. So, guess what? It’s free as of now,” he said to cheers.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Buckley Transportation Center in Lawrence, Berger noted the true cost of collecting fares include the armored cars, money room, fare boxes that cost $35,000 each and the time to manage nickels and dime. He explained buses move faster and cheaper “Without people in line fumbling with nickels and dimes and quarters to throw in the fare box.” In the end, he said, the Authority receives less than a quarter for every dollar in fares paid, which Berger described as “a clunky, inefficient way to generate revenue.”

“That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to generate revenue. I thank all of my friends from Washington, D.C., and Beacon Hill who are here because I am going to have to go back to them for money, but not because we’re not collecting fares,” he said.

Among those people, Berger will be approaching, is Congresswoman Lori Trahan. She said she can think of no better way to use the COVID relief funds.

“This is not only going to make it easier and more accessible for folks to take advantage of the MVRTA, but it’s also going to increase ridership because more people are going to see the value in jumping on an MVRTA bus,” Trahan said.

Congressman Seth Moulton added free buses also boost economic development and offer environmental benefits. “The more people that ride the bus, the more people in our downtown. We want more people in our downtowns and less carbon in the air. We want a lot of carbon in our steel, not in our air,” he said.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini said free buses also play a role in filling job vacancies. “This is a way to get more people on the buses, more people into jobs. When I go out to the industrial park, the number one thing people talk to me about is they can’t get help. And, when I go to people, they say ‘We can’t get there, mayor.’ So, this is going to provide jobs and economic opportunity.”

Other speakers included Sen. Barry Finegold, Lawrence Mayor Brian DePeña, Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove, Rep. Tram T. Nguyen and Haverhill City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua and several passengers who rely on the bus service.

As WHAV reported in December, Transit Authority board members voted unanimously to a two-year pilot program of free buses on all local fixed route and EZ Trans paratransit services. 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.

Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority Administrator Noah S. Berger addresses the audience in Lawrence as U.S. Reps. Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton look on. (WHAV News photograph.)

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