We’re Making Public Transit Buses Free To The Public Forever

Washington, D.C. has approved a plan to eliminate public transit bus fares for residents beginning in the summer of 2023. According to a  report by Fortune, it is a permanent free fare plan.

The plan was unanimously approved the D.C. City Council in early December and will waive the $2 fares for Metrobus riders within the city limits. The program is expected to begin near July 1 next year.

The program was the brainchild of Council member Charles Allen, who began advocating for free public transit fares in 2019. “The District is ready to be a national leader in the future of public transit,” Allen said.

According to the report, nearly 68 percent of D.C. residents who take public transit have annual incomes below $50,000 and are disproportionately Black and Latino. Riders from the Maryland and Virginia area also use D.C.’s public transit.

The goal is to help boost ridership to pre-pandemic levels while helping lower-income D.C. residents and essential and nightlife workers have an affordable way home. The city will also expand some routes to 24-hour schedules to assist with the latter.

“If D.C. demonstrates that it increases ridership, it reduces the cost burden for people who are lower income and it improves the quality of transit service in terms of speed of bus service, and reduces cars on the road, this could be a roaring success,” Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, told Fortune. “We just don’t know yet whether that would happen.”

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In a letter to council members, D.C. Mayor Muriel Browser raised concerns over the costs associated with the new plan, which is due to be finalized after a second vote later this month.

“District residents and taxpayers will have to pay for this program,” Browser wrote. “Our neighbors, Virginia and Maryland, should absorb some of these costs as their residents will benefit from this program as well.”

Ché Ruddell-Tabisola is director of government affairs for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. He sees the program as much-needed to help nightlife workers combat financial challenges caused by a decrease in downtown patrons due to inflation, gun violence, and remote and hybrid workers.

“A lot of industries have moved on from the pandemic, but for D.C.’s bars and restaurants, the pandemic is still happening every day,” Ruddell-Tabisola said. “Anything that helps encourage diners to get to downtown D.C. and enjoy the world-class dining and entertainment we have is a great thing.”

PHOTO: Passengers boarding a Metrobus in downtown Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. The Washington DC government voted to waive fares for Metrobus rides within city limits starting July, 1, 2023, becoming the nation’s most populous city to offer free public transit. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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