Bus Rides Will Soon be Free in This Major City

All bus fares in DC will be waived starting this summer
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 12, 2022 2:23 PM CST
Bus Rides Will Soon be Free in This Major City
A Metrobus moves past the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to the District of Columbia and other major cities that public transit was a lifeline for essential workers and that even modest fares could be a burden to them, per the AP. So the nation’s capital is introducing a groundbreaking plan: It will begin offering free bus fares to residents next summer. Other cities, including Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, suspended fare collection during the height of the pandemic to minimize human contact and ensure that residents with no other travel options could reach jobs and services at hospitals, grocery stores, and offices, but DC's permanent free fare plan will be by far the biggest such program in the country.

It comes at a time when other major cities are also considering broader zero-fare policies to improve equity and help regain ridership that was lost with the rise of remote and hybrid work. Analysts say DC’s free fare system offers a good test case on how public transit can be reshaped for a post-pandemic future. “If DC demonstrates that it increases ridership, it reduces the cost burden for people who are lower income, and it improves the quality of transit service … and reduces cars on the road, this could be a roaring success,” said one researcher with the Urban Institute.

The $2 fares will be waived for riders boarding Metrobuses within the city limits beginning around July 1. In unanimously approving the plan last week, the city council also agreed to expand bus service to 24 hours on 12 major routes downtown, benefiting nightlife and service workers who typically had to rely on costly rideshares to get home after public systems close at night. A new $10 million fund devoted to annual investments in DC bus lanes, shelters, and other improvements was also approved to make rides faster and more reliable. A fellow with the Cato Institute said the plan risks high costs and mixed results; he suggested that subsidies to help people by cars would bring better results. (More District of Columbia stories.)

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