Mayor Wu said today that she plans to work with officials in Cambridge, Chelsea and Revere to see if they can create a free-fare pilot on two long bus routes that carry riders between those cities and Boston.
At a press conference at Ashmont station on her plans to free the 23, 28 and 29 routes for two years, Wu said both the 66, which runs between Harvard and Nubian squares, and the 116, which runs between Wonderland and Maverick Square via Chelsea, are just the sort of routes that could benefit from free fares: Connecting front-line and other workers with jobs and medical and educational facilities.
She said that she went with the 23, 28 and 29 first because their routes are entirely within Boston city limits, so funding - $8 million over two years via federal Covid-relief funds if approved by the City Council - would be relatively simple, while funding for free fares on the 66 and 116 would require regional coordination, since the MBTA itself has no interest in free fares unless somebody else pays for them.
She said that ridership on the 28 line, currently free through a $500,000 pilot started by acting Mayor Kim Janey, is now the highest in the T system and shows that free fares can really help people who might otherwise have trouble buying a CharlieCard or even just finding $1.70 in loose change for a ride to work or a doctor's appointment. Ridership on the line, she said, is now approaching pre-pandemic levels, while elsewhere on the T, ridership is still roughly half what it was before March, 2020.
"Bostonians have already voted with their feet to show what works," she said. Wu has long advocated for eventually freeing the entire T to riders as a way to both help riders and to boost the local economy by giving residents easier access to jobs across the region.
Wu, wearing an MBTA-token pendant, added that her administration will also work to expand dedicated bus routes in Boston - such the new center-road lanes that just opened along Columbus Avenue between Egleston and Jackson Squares.
Before she started talking about bus routes and fares, Wu wanted to clear something up about one of the city councilors who attended the press conference: Stop calling Michael Flaherty Five-Car Flats.
"Let the record show that Councilor Flaherty does not have five cars and that he took the Red Line to get here today," she said.
In 2019, Flaherty tore into then Councilor Wu's proposal to charge for residential parking permits, saying the city should go after out-of-towners = and what he said were too many MBTA bus stops - taking up Boston parking spaces rather than hitting people like him and his family members, whom he said had five cars between them.