HAVERHILL — Inspired by the unbridled success of MeVa Transit’s Fare Free initiative, all Regional Transit Authorities in Massachusetts will be fare free during the holiday season from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. The initiative is funded through a $2.5 million grant awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to all 15 RTAs in the state. The program is designed to encourage new customers to “Try Transit” by offering no cost trips to shop or dine at local businesses, visit with friends and family, and commute to work during the holiday season. As a result, in addition to MeVa buses, which have been fare free since last March, all public transit in Massachusetts will be fare free through the end of the year except for the MBTA.
“MassDOT is pleased to have worked closely with the Commonwealth’s 15 Regional Transit Authorities to utilize the funding awarded in the FY23 state budget for the “Try Transit” program. “This initiative is another example of the many efforts where MassDOT and the RTAs collaborate to improve mobility options for Massachusetts transit customers,” commented MassDOT Rail & Transit Administrator Meredith Slesinger.
Of course, come January, when other RTAs go back to collecting fares, MeVa service will remain free to all riders. The MeVa Advisory Board authorized all MeVa buses and paratransit service to go fare free last December for at least two years starting in March 2022, when all fareboxes were removed from MeVa buses. The additional MassDOT funding will allow MeVa to remain fare free for an additional six weeks, or until Patriots Day 2024, before having to make long term revenue determinations.
The success of MeVa’s fare initiative is unassailable. Since going fare free, MeVa’s ridership has gone up a whopping 121.3% for fixed route service and 50.4% for paratransit service, based on October 2022 data. While the ridership numbers make a tremendous case for the value of going fare free in an of themselves, they only tell part of the story. By removing fares as a barrier to using transit, more riders translates into increased mobility, greater access to jobs, medical appointments, training, social outings, and more spending at local shops and restaurants, which will be even more important during the upcoming holiday season.
Operationally, by going fare free, buses travel faster as they no longer have to wait for passengers to line up to pay their fares. It has even improved the driver-passenger relationship, as drivers no longer have to police fare collection. Tellingly, even as ridership has gone up significantly, the number of complaints received has gone down 31.4% since MeVa stopped collecting fares.
MeVa’s fare free initiative is part of a larger effort to provide a more welcoming transit experience, with increased service frequencies in Lawrence, more direct routings, a new name, and new, more colorful buses that have been plying the streets of the Merrimack Valley since October to rave reviews. Communications Director Niorka Mendez noted that “MeVa’s fare free initiative has been a boon to the entire Merrimack Valley and we couldn’t be prouder that MassDOT is seeking to emulate our success this holiday season across Massachusetts—we know it will spread the benefits our passengers enjoy to the entire state. Perhaps,” she added with a smile, “brightly colored buses are next!” Happy Holidays!