Can a fare-free bus system work in Worcester?

Full and original article posted on Worcester Magazine

When the Worcester Regional Research Bureau dropped a report last week advocating for the Worcester Regional Transit Authority to move to a fare-free system, the idea seemed to take hold in the community.

Shared widely online and endorsed by transit advocates, the report explores the implications of making the WRTA free to ride. The WRRB concluded that getting rid of fares would make buses more efficient on their routes and increase ridership without placing all that much of a financial burden on the WRTA. Only 14 percent of the WRTA’s budget comes from fare revenue, about $3 million, per the WRRB report. In order to collect the $3 million, the WRTA spends about $850,000. So getting rid of the whole business of collecting fares would set the transit company back just $2.2 million or thereabout.

Meanwhile, the WRRB argues, ridership is in a free-falling decline. Between 2016 and 2018, ridership dipped 23 percent as fares went up by 25 cents. From 1998 to 2018, ridership declined from 5 million rides a year to just above 3 million.

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