Free bus plan could cost $100 million

Boston Statehouse

Proposed MBTA cuts include less frequent subway and commuter trains. (SHNS/File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Making all MBTA buses free of fares to riders could have “unintended consequences” on the RIDE paratransit service and carry a price tag stretching close to or above $100 million, T General Manager Steve Poftak said Monday.

Poftak did not explicitly oppose the free bus proposal from Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore, but he said not charging riders on those platforms “may not have the desired effect that some of the advocates believe it will.” “It is more complicated than that,” Poftak said during a budget briefing on Monday.

“One has to take into account what we would have to spend to keep the current level of service if indeed there were no fares. Its impact on the RIDE, I think, is poorly understood, but it would likely be about $182 million using pre-COVID figures.”

A wide-ranging transportation funding and spending bill Boncore filed would require the MBTA and the state’s 15 regional transit authorities to run buses without charging fares from their millions of riders. Boncore said he believes the change would cost the state $30 million to $60 million per year, less than Poftak’s rough estimate or the hundreds of millions per year price tag that Transportation Committee Co-chair Rep.

William Straus projected for the policy. Poftak also noted Monday that free buses might not help commuters who travel by both bus and subway. Only about 20 percent of the T’s riders before COVID-19 used buses exclusively, he said.

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