The Haverhill, Mass.-based Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) board voted unanimously to go fare-free for all local fixed route and EZ Trans paratransit services starting March 1, for at least a two-year pilot. Fares will still be collected on the Boston Commuter bus.
The pilot is an expansion of the City of Lawrence-funded initiative that has covered fares on three local routes in Lawrence since September 2019. The MVRTA will be using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the pilot.
One local champion of the free-fare pilot is Congresswoman Lori Trahan, MA-3, who called “the decision to waive fares for Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority riders a game-changer for folks across the region who rely on public transit for their commutes.” She noted that she was particularly gratified to see the work she is doing in Washington benefit transit riders back home. “I was proud to vote for the CARES Act last year and applaud the board for putting funding from the relief package to use helping Merrimack Valley residents and small businesses working to recover from the pandemic,” she said.
Some of the many advantages of a fare free transit system include winning back riders who stopped riding during the COVID-19 pandemic, returning dollars back to the local economy, increased access for people having a hard time affording transportation, faster and more efficient trips, and reduced conflicts between drivers and passengers. In addition, another factor supporting the budget-conscious board’s decision to go fare free is the high cost and inefficiency of collecting fares. As MVRTA Administrator Noah Berger noted, “for every dollar we collect in fares, we only see less than 24 cents when the fully allocated costs of collecting fares are factored in.”
“I am really excited about this pilot,” said MVRTA Spokesperson Niorka Mendez, adding that “going fare-free will attract new riders, increase patronage of our local businesses, offer economic relief to families that rely on our service, and connect people to jobs and other economic opportunities.”