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Zero-fare starts gaining traction with Washington setting plans to follow

Image source: Trans Dev

Zero-fare: Residents of Washington, DC, should expect some good news as the state plans to do away with bus fares.

According to the city’s decision, Washington will be able to join a number of US cities attempting to demonetize the metro bus and rail systems.

Numerous cities, like Boston, San Francisco, and Denver, are already testing the zero-fare system.

In contrast, Kansas City, Missouri, became the first significant city in 2019 to adopt the fare-free public transportation system.

The movement

The zero-fare movement calls for the abolition of charges on buses, trains, and other forms of shared transportation.

The premise behind the movement is that making public transit available to everyone, regardless of their means, will boost ridership, decrease traffic congestion, and promote social and economic equality.

Business organizations, environmentalists, and Democratic politicians have so far come out in favor of the zero-fare campaign, citing the following reasons:

  • Climate change is lessened.
  • Using public transportation may help local economies
  • People need public transit on a daily basis

The campaign attracted more attention during the pandemic because it demonstrated the need for public transportation for essential professionals responding to the site.

The bill

Even though it is becoming increasingly popular, the zero-fare movement has faced political opposition in areas where it conflicts with local budgets or laws.

Two weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the zero-fare bill was brought up.

The bill’s sponsor, DC city councilman Charles Allen, emphasized its significance.

“I don’t charge you when you need the fire department, but yet, we’re going to make sure there’s a fire department when you need,” said Allen.

“That’s how you need to think about this.”

The DC proposal aims to do away with the $2 bus fee as early as July.

The city council unanimously approved the law, and now it is up to Mayor Muriel Bowser to sign it, veto it, or leave it unsigned.

The zero-fare system covering Maryland and Virginia without state support attracted immediate opposition from Bowser.

Nevertheless, a mayoral veto can be overridden thanks to unanimous approval.

What it could bring

In addition to a dozen 24-hour bus service lines, the zero-fare measure would spend $43 million yearly to make riding the DC Metrobus free for passengers.

Extra taxes would be used to pay for it.

The DC council still considers the $10 million subsidy program, which would provide city residents a $100 monthly credit to use on the DC Metrorail.

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How to make it happen

Funding and political backing, both of which Kansas enjoyed, are two crucial elements in assisting US communities in implementing the zero-fare system.

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s Richard Jarrold estimates that fares account for 12% ($8 million) of bus operational costs.

According to the mayor’s chief of staff, Morgan Said, Kansas spends $2 to $3 million yearly on fare collection.

DC fares comprise less than 10% of the district’s transportation expenditure.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, fare-free buses have been operating in Richmond, Virginia, and fare income made up 8% of the agency’s entire budget.

“For some smaller transit agencies that don’t really collect much cash anyway,” said Grant Sparks, a director at the Virginia Department of Rail and Transportation.

“They’re almost spending more to collect the fare than they’re actually receiving in revenue.”

They made the economic case more persuasive.

Charles Allen intends to continue and develop a fare-free public transportation system.


Despite the zero-fare proposal enjoying growing importance, it is still the exception rather than the rule.

In New York, officials reduced the cost of subway fares, making each trip $2.75.

The city launched the Fair Fares program in January 2020 to provide qualifying low-income citizens with transportation discounts.

It is challenging to subsidize the city’s transportation system, which depends on fares for almost 30% of its operating budget.

Meghan Keegan, an MTA representative, said:

“Until a new plan emerges for funding public transportation in New York that would allow the MTA to be less reliant on fare revenue, there is no way to consider eliminating a vital revenue stream.”

The idea is being scaled to a statewide level in places like Virginia that have had success with zero-fare transportation.

Virginia law limits the amount the state can pay to WMATA, the bus company that operates in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC.

Despite its infrequent fare holidays, Denver also intends to keep its prices the same.


Regarding the zero-fare system, Republicans are less enthusiastic.

Utah, a Republican-dominated state, had a budget plan to make the public transportation system fare-free for a year, but it was opposed.

Republican House Majority Leader Mike Schultz stated that the system receives adequate subsidies and noted that nothing comes for free.

The organization Transit Center in New York City also challenged the zero-fare idea.

The group claims a poll found that consumers would prefer increased transportation dependability and frequency.

The discussion highlights how unlikely a federal zero-fare policy will be implemented soon.


The zero-fare public transit movement is picking up momentum