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May 22, 2019

Research Bureau: Eliminating WRTA fares would increase ridership, efficiency

A green WRTA bus drives through a parking garage. Photo | File A WRTA bus

Most adults pay $1.75 per trip on Worcester Regional Transit Authority buses, but even that is too much of a disincentive to make use of the city’s only public transportation option, the Worcester Regional Research Bureau said in a new report. 

Ridership on the service is declining, dropping 23% between 2016 and 2018 with last year marking a 13-year low for ridership and the lowest in a non-strike year since tracking began in 1991.

The service brought in $3 million in fare revenue last year, making up just 14% of the WRTA’s revenue and the lowest since 2010.

WRRB instead suggests eliminating the fares altogether, which would cause ridership to rise and help with efficiency by eliminating the costs associated with fare collection.

The WRTA is the second largest regional transit authority in Massachusetts by ridership with 23 fixed routes in 13 communities and paratransit service to 37 communities via a fleet of 52 buses. 

According to WRRB, declining ridership correlates with rising fares.

Average ridership was 4.9 million between 1997 and 2001 when fares were $1. As prices incrementally increased by 25 cents every few years, ridership has declined to just 3.5 million from 2017 to present. 

“While high fares are sometimes presented as a necessity to raise revenue, the last fare hike in 2017 preceded two straight fiscal years of declining farebox revenue,” the bureau said. 

The WRTA estimates collecting fares costs around $850,000 annually, which would help offset that $3 million loss from discontinuing fares.

“Making the WRTA fare-free is not charity. It is a way to increase the efficiency of a key government service in a creative and compassionate way,” the WRRB said.

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