Public transportation is a public good, Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ayanna Pressley argued Monday, announcing the reintroduction of their national “Freedom to Move” fare-free transit legislation.
“To truly create world class public transportation across the United States and to advance justice and equity, we need to make public transit free,” Markey said at a press conference outside the Ruggles T station Monday afternoon. “And that is why I am proud to stand with Congresswoman Pressley today to reintroduce our ‘Freedom to Move Act.’”
The act, first introduced in 2020, would provide $25 billion competitive grants over five years to support state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transportation systems, the sponsors said, as well as investing in public transportation safety, quality and equity efforts.
Advocates pointed to results from fare-free programs throughout Massachusetts. Using pandemic relief funding, Boston made bus routes 23, 28 and 29 — serving Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan — fare-free for two years. A city report released last month found ridership on the routes increased at a greater rate than the overall bus system.
Both Worcester and Merrimack Valley buses have likewise eliminated fares through to 2024, also finding rebounds in ridership — up 150% and 120% respectively from pre-pandemic levels, Markey cited.
“The data and the benefits are clear; when we lower barriers for residents to ride public transit, then they will use it,” said Pressley. “These are the types of investments that we should be making; those that make our communities more connected and that directly support our people.”
Pressley and other advocates pointed to racial and economic components of the issue — citing a Center of Neighborhood Technology statistic showing the average low-income household spends 30% of income on transportation.
“I’m happy to say that residents in my community no longer have to worry about getting money for the T, and now they can just put that money towards food and groceries which are now skyrocketing out of control,” Connie Forbes, a local bus rider who spoke at the press event, said of the fare-free routes.
Mayor Michelle Wu and others pointed out the common critique that the T has too many financial problems already and contended that data show making the service more accessible and upping ridership serves the system long-term and saves on some fare-collection costs.
Asked about the bill’s chance this year with the Republican-controlled House, the sponsors emphasized the importance of continuing to push the issue and gain support.
“It reminds me very much of when we first started banging the drum on student debt cancellation, an issue that people saw as fringe, as radical, as not likely to be one that would be viable,” said Pressley. … “We built a coalition, we built a movement and ultimately we saw action, and the same will be true here. Organized power is realized power. So we’re just gonna keep organizing.”
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