The Status of the Fare Free WRTA Idea
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!
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.
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.
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.