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April 18, 2024

Worcester Regional Transit Authority to extend free rides through June 2025

A small blue passenger bus with a large white and red stripe sits outside of a three-layer train station. Photos/RICK SAIA A Worcester Regional Transit Authority bus waits for morning passengers at the Westborough commuter rail station.

Worcester area residents can look forward to yet another year of fare-free bus rides as the Worcester Regional Transit Authority board voted to extend the gratuitous service for the fifth consecutive year. 

The extension will remain in effect through June 2025, according to a Thursday press release from the Zero Fare Coalition, a grassroots alliance working to permanently make the WRTA fare-free. 

The program has a budget of $4.5 million with funding provided to the City of Worcester by the 2020 federal CARES Act. 

“Today, ridership is higher than pre-pandemic levels and higher than it’s ever been. With the extension of the program, families and residents in WRTA service areas will continue to have access to affordable transit,” Deb Cary of Mass Audubon and the Zero Fare Worcester Coalition said in the release. “Free-fares reduces greenhouse gas emissions by getting people out of cars onto public transit. This is an initiative that addresses the environment and equity.” 

The WRTA implemented its no-fare program in March 2020, renewing the initiative every year since. This year’s appendage means WRTA will continue to act as the nation’s longest-running fare-free regional transit system, a title it earned upon the board’s 2024 renewal vote.  

The renewal comes following a March 2023 report by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, which found that offering rides free of charge was more cost-saving than collecting fares when taking into account the cost of and recurring fees associated with the mobile payment system the WRTA had then agreed to implement. 

A 2024 MassINC Polling Group survey cited in Thursday's release polled 500 residents from the 16 towns with WRTA bus services and found 70% were supportive of the free-fare policy. Though support was consistent amongst all demographics, individuals making less than $50,000 a year, who account for 54% of riders, reported the most with 85% in support, according to the survey. 

“We know from speaking daily with our member businesses of all sizes and from all sectors of our local economy that they are desperately trying to fill employment needs,” Timothy Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in the release. “The WRTA plays a critical role in this regard linking employers and employees from across the region to economic opportunities. Free fare has not only grown ridership, but it has also greatly increased the opportunity for members of the community to have access to jobs in and around the city.”

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