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November 18, 2021

WRTA board votes for another year of free fares, with long-term solution on the horizon

Photo | Grant Welker The WRTA main hub on Foster Street in downtown Worcester

On Thursday morning, the Worcester Regional Transit Authority board voted unanimously to continue its free fare program through the entirety of 2022, and began laying out a plan for a longer term solution.

Along with approving another year of free fares, the board also unanimously voted to start revising the fare policy. Free fares were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to $5 million in federal aid brought in from the crisis, but due to popularity the program was extended until the end of 2021 by the board. 

“This isn’t a long-term solution,” WRTA Administrator Dennis Lipka said in a phone interview, referring to the zero-fare program. He said the votes for a new policy will help create a sustainable solution to the question of fare-free transit.

He said once the federal funding runs out, the board will need to find a replacement for the revenue lost if a fare-free system is implemented.

In a third vote, the board agreed to move ahead with purchasing a new fare collection system. The new collection system will transition away from cash purchases of fares to card payments, either by credit card or a WRTA card, said Lipka.

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