Markey Proposes Making Free Public Bus Service Permanent; MeVa Chief Endorses Plan

MeVa Transit Administrator Noah S. Berger discusses free, standard buses in 2022 in Lawrence as U.S. Reps. Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton look on. (WHAV News photograph.)

Local buses, operated by MeVa Transit, have been free to passengers for more than a year and U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey wants to make the temporary pandemic-era program permanent.

Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley said they reintroduced the Freedom to Move Act Monday that would “establish public transportation as a public good through fare-free services.” The move was endorsed by Noah Berger, administrator of MeVa, formerly known as the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority.

“The Freedom to Move Act is so aptly named, as robust regional transit authorities literally give freedom to our communities—freedom to access jobs, education, medical appointments and all of life’s opportunities,” Berger said. “Thanks to the strong support of Sen. Markey and our entire delegation, MeVa has been able to use federal COVID relief funds to go fare free, double frequencies for all Lawrence-based service and optimize our bus routes.”

Berger went on to say ridership has “more than doubled” since the public transit agency’s pandemic lows.

Markey said, “Our country’s public transit system must be made accessible and affordable so that everyone can get to work, school, the grocery store and other critical services in their day-to-day lives. When we support state and local efforts to embed economic and climate justice into our transit system with fare-free service, we ensure that the transit needs of low-income workers and families, people of color, seniors and people with disabilities are met.”

In a statement, officials added, before COVID-19, workers and families spent more time and money commuting to and from jobs, school and other daily services than ever before and low-income families spent nearly 30% of their household income on transportation. They said “Traffic congestion has also worsened greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, exacerbating climate change and contributing to health disparities like asthma and lung cancer in marginalized communities.

The Freedom to Move Act would establish a $25 billion competitive grant program over five years to support state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transportation systems, invest in efforts to improve the safety and quality of public transportation and use grants to close equity gaps in current transit systems.

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