The Status of the Fare Free WRTA Idea

3Q 2019: In April 2019, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free" bus system. Other cities, e.g., Portland, Oregon, are doing this or have done it in the past. Clearly, a fare-free WRTA would be a great benefit for those living in poverty.
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News

  • This quarter, TFT received grants from three organizations: the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation, Webster Five Foundation and the Agnes M. Lindsay Trust for a total of $3,100. Donations from individuals and corporations raised the total for this quarter to $3,635; the total for the first three quarters of this year is $11,180.
  • TFT has added the African Community Education organization as the latest organization helping TFT to dispense its bus passes. We also brought on Abby's House as a replacement for Parent Professional Advocacy League.
  • The Massachusetts state budget for the fiscal year starting last July first did not gain approval of the Governor until weeks past the deadline, but sufficient funds were provided for the state regional transit authorities (RTAs) so that the WRTA did not have to eliminate any fixed routes or increase fares (as it did two years ago).
  • The top management of the WRTA has been in transition since its former Administrator (CEO position) resigned last summer. The interim Administrator is Dennis Lipka. Mr. Lipka's tenure has been extended for another 18 months because the candidate to become the new permanent Administrator unexpectedly turned down the offer made to him.
  • As reported last quarter, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free" bus system. Other cities, e.g., Portland Oregon, have done this. Our article this month looks at the status of efforts to promote a Fare Free WRTA. Clearly, a fare-free WRTA would be a great benefit for those living in poverty. Estimates of poverty rate in Worcester reach as high as 22% of Worcester's population.
  • TFT redesigned its web site: www.tasksfortransit.org and launched the new site in early July

The Status of the Fare Free WRTA Idea

Genesis
In April 2019, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free” bus system. Other cities, e.g., Portland, Oregon, are doing this or have done it in the past. Clearly, a fare-free WRTA would be a great benefit for those living in poverty. Estimates of poverty rate in Worcester reach as high as 22% of Worcester’s population (Source:US Census 2017).
Here is the first paragraph of the report, which can be viewed on the Greater Worcester Research Bureau’s website. The report was written by Tom Quinn.

“Charging user fees for public services can have adverse effects. Police don’t want to cut down on 911 calls by billing distressed citizens for law enforcement response. A cover charge to get into a public school would result in a less educated public. Residents can read to their hearts’ content without worrying about paying off a tab at the library, and there is no need to purchase tickets to get into a city park.”

Mr. Quinn goes on to list similar reasons why a fare free WRTA would have benefits for the average citizen. The report addresses both pros and cons and identifies some key financial issues. Even climate change gets a mention!

Recent Survey
The idea seems to be favored by a large percentage of the Worcester population according to a sample of several hundred people (n=383) conducted this summer by the Worcester Community Connections Coalition, headed by Anne Bureau. Over 90% of the respondents approved the idea and clearly indicated they would ride the bus more frequently.

Anne Bureau has also formed a committee of individuals that support the idea and want to advocate for its implementation. Some of the participants include a Worcester City Councilman, Gary Rosen, Worcester’s state senator, Harriet Chandler, and Janet Yost the Director of the Health Foundation. Steve McClure, Tasks for Transit CEO, is also a participant.

Fare Boxes
A key aspect of the Free Fare WRTA idea is the absence of any fare boxes on the buses. We mention this because coincidentally the current multi-year contract with the UK provider of the WRTA fare boxes and related software will end in May 2020. The WRTA does not wish to renew this contract, so needs to prepare for its replacement. Earlier this summer, with the support of the Fare Free WRTA committee, a motion was put to the WRTA Advisory Board to have a comprehensive analysis of the WRTA operations made by an external consultant. Alternative fare box systems would be analyzed and the fare free idea would also be considered as one aspect of the overall report. The WRTA Advisory Board approved the motion unanimously. Grants from local foundations would fund the study.

Stay Tuned
The Fare Free WRTA Committee, is now waiting for the study to be defined in more detailed and for an external consultant or consulting firm to be hired to execute the study. In the meantime, the committee, an informal organization by the way, will continue to advocate for a Fare Free WRTA. Other more formal committees will continue to meet periodically, specifically the Ridership Advisory Committee (RAC) and the Transportation Advocacy Coalition (TAC). We will continue to report on this issue in future TFT Newsletters.

Stats from the March 2015 launch of Tasks for Transit through September 2019

5
Partner Charities
$ 22164
Spent on Bus Fares
5960
Bus Passes Dispensed
32
Job Fare Kits Dispensed

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Tasks for Transit Accomplishments for 2019

4Q 2019: TFT’s plan for 2019 was to continue its steady growth by adding four Partner Charities to its network. As has been done for the previous two years, one more was added during each quarter of 2019. TFT ended 2019 with 30 Partner Charities.

The Status of the Fare Free WRTA Idea

3Q 2019: In April 2019, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free” bus system. Other cities, e.g., Portland, Oregon, are doing this or have done it in the past. Clearly, a fare-free WRTA would be a great benefit for those living in poverty.

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