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Boston and Cambridge are planning to make the MBTA's route 1 bus fare-free

One of the MBTA's current fare-free buses, Route 28.
One of the MBTA's current fare-free buses, Route 28.

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

I promise this isn’t becoming solely an MBTA newsletter — but first the MBTA needs to promise to stop making news.

Could the fare-free bus roll into Cambridge? Boston Mayor Michelle Wu told WBUR’s Tiziana Dearing during her monthly Radio Boston interview yesterday that the two cities are in talks about eliminating fares on the MBTA’s route 1 bus — which runs from Harvard Square down Massachusetts Avenue to Nubian Square in Roxbury.

  • Why? The 1 bus is the T’s fourth-most popular bus route, carrying nearly 9,000 riders a week. But it also gets very much bogged down in Mass. Ave traffic. Wu says that letting people get on without paying is one way to help speed it up. “It would be one of these examples where we could document and show the benefits of people being able to get on and ride for free,” she said.
  • Boston has already eliminated fares on three bus routes running through Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan as part of a two-year experiment. Last month, the city released a report showing it boosted ridership and saved 26% of riders over $20 a month.
  • What’s next for Cambridge: Officials are still working to finalize the details and start date for lifting fares on the route 1 bus. But aides to City Councilor Burhan Azeem, who chaired Cambridge’s fare-free working group, say it will likely be a one-to-two year pilot.
  • In the weeds: Not all transportation wonks love this whole fare-free movement. Harvard fellow David Zipper recently wrote in Vox that such initiatives are a distraction from what should be transit agencies’ core focus: delivering quality, reliable service. However, Wu argues buses are a small percentage of MBTA fare revenue and should be a “public good” like libraries and parks. Listen to her full Radio Boston interview here.

If you like free buses, well… the MBTA announced a new slate of subway line shutdowns in May as crews keep working on the tracks to get service back to normal speeds. That means we’ll be seeing a lot of those free Yankee shuttle buses running between Boston and Braintree in the weeks to come. A few highlights:

  • The Red Line’s Braintree branch will be replaced by shuttle buses starting at 8:45 p.m. for four straight Monday-Thursday stretches.
  • Both of the Red Line’s southern branches will be replaced by shuttles all day during the first three weekends of May.
  • Service between Braintree and South Station on three commuter rail lines will be replaced by buses the first two weekends of May.
  • A big chunk of the Green Line — including the entire C branch — will be replaced by shuttles over Memorial Day weekend.
  • You can read the full list of May diversions here.

Massachusetts Democratic Party members have elected Steve Kerrigan to be their new leader. Kerrigan, the CEO of Kennedy Community Health Center and a 2014 lieutenant governor nominee, will take over for Gus Bickford, who’s served seven years as chair.

A new survey released today by MassInc Polling Group shows two out of three Boston Public Schools parents are concerned about their child’s physical safety while in school — and the level of concern is particularly high among Black and Asian parents.

P.S.— Want to report on stories like this? Applications to be WBUR’s next Education Reporting Fellow are open now through May 15. The six-month position comes with pay and benefits — not to mention the opportunity to be on the WBUR airwaves. Apply here!


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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