Free fares extended for the Worcester Regional Transit Authority until 2024

Riders served by the Worcester Regional Transit Authority won’t have to worry about paying fares until next year.

The WRTA suspended fare collection on the entire system in March 2020. On Thursday, the authority’s advisory board voted to keep the policy in place until June 2024.

Authority administrator Dennis Lipka said money from the federal CARES Act pays for the free trips.

“The board vote this morning essentially allocated additional CARES money, $3.6 million dollars, to cover fares,” Lipka said. “We’re not doing away with fare revenue, we’re just taking it from a different source.”

Lipka said there is enough CARES money left to cover fares for a few more years, but after that, the agency must find another source of revenue in order for the policy to continue.

Advocates and community members would like to see free fares become permanent.

Worcester Zero Fare Coalition member and long-time WRTA rider, Lynn Norris, said the policy has made her life easier “especially when it comes to picking up certain things like medicines and making [it to] appointments,” Norris said.

Norris said she has taken public transportation for more than 20 years. The free rides have been a relief.

“We really need a break somewhere,” Norris said. “The food, the cost of living, you know, rent, everything, something had to give. And [free fare] was a small step, you know, of relieving the, high inflation that is going on.”

A report released this week from the Worcester Regional Research Bureau showed the WRTA is the only regional Massachusetts transit agency that has exceeded pre-pandemic ridership.

State Sen. Robyn Kennedy said research around the policy shows that it promotes equity and economic mobility. She said state investment in the policy could help sustain free fares.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to continue that momentum in the senate to invest not only in Worcester and the WRTA but in equitable investment in our systems across the commonwealth,” Kennedy said.

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Andrea Perdomo-Hernandez is a transportation reporter for WBUR.


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Dave Faneuf was the evening news anchor at WBUR.



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