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April 20, 2023

WRTA approves zero-fare extension

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

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority zero-fare bus program will continue at least until June of 2024. 

On Thursday, the WRTA board voted to extend the fare-free bus service. The program started in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses and services to close. In September 2022 the board voted to extend the program through June 2023, and now the board has elected to continue the program.

“A fare free WRTA not only promotes equity and economic mobility for all residents, but it also supports local economic revitalization,” State Senator Robyn Kennedy said in a Thursday press release from the Worcester Zero Fare Coalition. “As one of the Senators representing the First Worcester district, I remain committed to advocating for the resources necessary to ensure our transit system continues to thrive. I am grateful for the WRTA's partnership in this critical work, and I look forward to continuing to work together.”

In March the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, Inc. released a report that suggested continuing the free-fare program because the cost of implementing a collection service for fares alongside the monthly payments to use the new system would outweigh the money collected. 

According to the WRRB report “Resurging Regional Ridership: An analysis of mobility flows, riders, and ridership in the WRTA region,” which was released on Wednesday, ridership has rebounded after plummeting during the pandemic. 

“The WRTA has had an unparalleled recovery in the region,” the report says. “It is not only the unique agency in the analysis that reached and surpassed its prepandemic values (which it achieved for the first time in November 2021), but it has continued to grow.”

According to the report, roughly two-thirds of people who answered a WRTA survey said they earn less than $25,000 and don’t own a vehicle, which means they need the WRTA to get to and from work, which is the main reason people use the WRTA’s fixed-route buses. On top of that, more than half of the other riders use it for other purposes like medical trips, shopping, socializing and more, with most people using it daily and if they couldn’t use the bus they would “either walk or not travel.” 

“Transportation is a significant expense for families – especially low-income families who rely on public transit systems like the WRTA to get to jobs, schools, medical appointments, and cultural and religious centers,” said Andy Saltzberg of the advocacy group the Worcester Zero Fare Coalition in the press release. “With the extension of the free-fare bus program, people and families in WRTA service areas will continue to have an affordable and equitable transit system we can all be proud of. And sets the bar very high for other bus transit authorities in the region and nationwide looking to increase equitable mobility for more people, relieve an economic burden on low-income people and families, and create economic opportunity.”

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Stephen Quist
April 21, 2023

So exactly when will the WRTA Board actually put forth a plan to replace the aging decrepit unreliable bus fleet polluting our cities and towns?
They've been sitting on the ARPA monies for a couple of years now and the only thing they've done is extend fare free service?

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