Free public transportation accelerates in some U.S. cities

Calls for free public transportation are growing in the United States, although there is some debate about its feasibility.

While some cities have taken small steps, Washington State recently passed a bill to eliminate municipal bus fares. It is the largest city to launch a zero-fare transit program by July 1st.

Charles Allen, a member of Washington’s governing council that passed the bill unanimously, said, “Offering free fares is the right thing to do.

Allen, who is also chairman of the city’s transportation board, believes public transportation should be considered like any other free public service.

“I don’t pay to use the library or call the fire department,” he told VOA. I don’t agree with that.”

FILE – Passengers board a Metrobus on December 7, 2022 in Washington. Washington recently passed measures to eliminate city bus fares.

Allen said Washington’s “transit [system] don’t make money It can’t be helped because it’s in the public interest. So fare collection is where you get a little extra money in the system. And it’s just shifting the burden from passengers, especially since bus passengers are mostly low-income. ”

Working from home has made a difference

Like other cities, many Washingtonians began working remotely at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bus utilization has returned to 95%. [of pre-pandemic levels]Allen said, adding that Washington’s local government would fund the project.

“This bill will add about a dozen 24-hour bus routes and create a $10 million annual service fund to improve bus service,” he said.

Allen wants more people to use public transportation.

“The more people can get out of their cars and onto free public transport, the better the results,” he said.

Some believe the free fare movement has environmental benefits.

“The Sierra Club supports the free fare movement and believes it is important to significantly reduce pollution from the transportation sector,” said Katherine, director of the environmental group’s Clean Transportation for All campaign. Garcia said. “We know that more passengers using public transport reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality.”

FILE — Passengers carrying bicycles on a light rail train in Denver, Colorado. Public transport costs drop to zero in August, when pollution levels are at their highest.

The city of Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, continues DASH bus service that was made free during the coronavirus pandemic.

Resident Eduardo Campos said: “And it’s easy to get to other parts of the city from the neighborhood.”

New York-based TransitCenter is a foundation that advocates for improving public transportation in the United States and opposes the zero fare movement.

“Public transport needs more money due to inflation, and that money should come partly from taxpayers and partly from fares,” said David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter. told VOA. “Thus, in most large cities, abolishing fares would result in a significant drop in revenue and a reduction in transport volume.”

Kansas City #1

Kansas City, Missouri became the first city in the United States to introduce zero-fare public transit, allowing veterans to ride streetcars for free. And from 2019, buses and trams are now available free of charge.

Richard Jarrold, deputy CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, said the program has been successful and “brings benefits to the community by helping people save money on rent and medical bills.” increase.

But Bragdon said Kansas City used to have “poor quality public transit with a $1.50 ride. People don’t ride it.”

Bragdon says the revenue should have been used to improve service instead of eliminating fares.

Kansas City faces considerable financial challenges to keep free fares going.

“Politically, we are backed by the City of Kansas City, which provided additional funding to partially offset the loss of revenue,” Jarrold said. “But in the long term, we are looking at alternative funding sources such as health insurance companies and social services agencies.”

FILE – San Francisco Cable Car, September 11, 2019. A spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority said Pilot his program now offers free rides for young and seniors throughout the city’s public transit system.

Other cities have come up with innovative ideas to try free fares.

Public transit in Denver, Colorado, has set a zero toll month for August, the month with the most air pollution.

In San Francisco, pilot programs for youth and seniors “offer all public transportation free,” said Stephen Chun, deputy spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority. “No steps have been taken in that direction,” he said, even though passengers want free transportation for everyone.

TransitCenter’s Bragdon said offering fare subsidies is a better idea than free fares.

“We have cities already doing that in Seattle, Portland and New York. There are ways to subsidize fares for low-income people,” he said.

Allen, a Washington council member, also helps subsidize the district’s subway system.

“It’s not going to happen anytime soon, but the plan is to be able to provide subsidies to people who ride the subway.” Free public transportation accelerates in some U.S. cities

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