Starting this Sunday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City will launch a pilot program offering free bus service on five routes. The program, which will run for 6 to 12 months, aims to explore new ways to make public transportation more accessible to residents.
The five routes included in the program are: Bx18 A/B in the Bronx, B60 in Brooklyn, M116 in Upper Manhattan, Q4 LCL/LTD in Queens, and S46/96 in Staten Island. However, the free service will not include transfers to other buses or Metro stations.
The selection of these routes was based on factors such as passenger numbers, fare evasion, service adequacy, equity for low-income communities, and access to employment and commercial activity. The MTA hopes to study the impact of the free service on ridership, access, and equity during the pilot period.
Approximately 43,900 daily passengers are expected to benefit from the program on weekdays, with slightly fewer on weekends. It is estimated that each family of four could save up to $6,000 per year as a result of the free bus service.
MTA President and CEO, Janno Lieber, expressed excitement about the pilot program and its potential benefits. He mentioned that the MTA has always encouraged innovation and creative thinking across the transportation network. Lieber also stated, “We look forward to seeing how New Yorkers respond to this pilot program.”
To differentiate the buses participating in the pilot program, they will be marked with “Fare Free” signs, destination notices, and on-board decals. The toll boxes and OMNY readers will also be covered.
Governor Kathy Hochul, in July, emphasized the importance of public transportation in New York City and the MTA’s efforts. She said, “By establishing these pilot free bus routes, we are expanding access to public transportation throughout the city and improving transportation equity to better serve all New Yorkers.”
The introduction of the free bus service comes at a time when the MTA is facing significant financial losses due to fare evasion. The agency estimates an annual loss of $690 million due to the increasing number of users accessing public transportation without paying. It is worth noting that very few low-income New Yorkers utilize the “Fair Fares” program, which provides half-fare for eligible individuals. The program also applies to students, people with disabilities, and seniors. Eligibility information for the program can be found in multiple languages.
Overall, the MTA hopes that the pilot program will provide valuable insights into the potential benefits of free public transportation and contribute to ongoing efforts to improve accessibility and equity in New York City’s transportation system.