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No-fare buses boosted ridership, satisfaction on the 28 line, city study says

Ridership went up on 28 bus with fare elimination.

From the study.

A Boston Transportation Department study says riders on a fare-free 28 bus were able to get on board faster - especially at Nubian Square - and even just felt the bus was more reliable and safer.

But while the study found that the amount of time riders spent getting on 28 buses decreased, the study does show that the time it took an average 28 bus to complete its route actually increased over the course of the initial fare-free pilot. However, the department says it did not study factors that might have led to that, such as changes in overall traffic patterns along Blue Hill Avenue.

BTD says that because of the $500,000 pilot - recently extended another two years and now including the 22 and 23 buses with roughty $8 million in city funding - the 28 is now at 99% of its pre-pandemic passenger loads, and got there while other routes are still showing significantly lower ridership.

Route 28 ridership increased dramatically (38%) after the start of the pilot, experiencing up to 4,000 additional trips per weekday, compared to only a 15%
increase in systemwide bus ridership.

Decreased boarding time was particularly pronounced at Nubian Square because without a fare, bus drivers could let passengers get on through the rear door as well. Passengers said the buses felt safer in part because the removal of fares meant no arguments between drivers and people who just didn't want to, or couldn't, pay.

However, the study also showed that the fareless buses drew more new riders away from walking and bicycling than from car riding.

Interviews with riders showed, on average, greater satisfaction with the service, BTD says, adding that even riders who effectively did not save any money with the free-fare bus, because they had to transfer to buses that still require fares, felt they were saving money. The department says some people would get off the 28 and then walk to their destination, rather than continue on a bus that does require fares. It adds that the no-fare policy also increased usage of the Ride.

Via Chris Friend, who critiques the report.

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Comments

Passengers said the buses felt safer in part because the removal of fares meant no arguments between drivers and people who just didn't want to, or couldn't, pay.

So much for what I believed about prices being a barrier to undesirables. Just because they weren't previously allowed to board doesn't mean that they couldn't cause trouble because of that.

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Voting closed 38

Using this as an argument for free fares is blaming the victim. The unsafe situation is caused by the people causing trouble, not the T.

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Voting closed 33

….come in all sizes.

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Voting closed 18

Well if we had free buses in South Boston to get to work I'm sure our ridership would be up as well - I pay for my monthly bus pass but everyday coming and going from work encounter riders that have food & drinks yet tell the driver I have no money - maybe they should have thought of that before they bought their stuff and the driver most of the time says go ahead (aka as free)....Everyone wants to be treated equal maybe they should start looking at the people in need throughout the "entire" city not just certain neighbors, your zip code doesn't justify your worth.

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Voting closed 43

In other breaking news today, water is wet and the sun rose in the east this morning.

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Voting closed 54

That it drew more new rides from walking and biking than cars, which is a big part of the argument for free T.

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Voting closed 29

Cost of bus/subway fare is not the reason why people will drive or take a cab/ride share. People use cars for convenience/reliability/comfort and accept the higher cost for those benefits.

Apart from walking or biking, the T tends to be the lowest-cost option for getting from point A to point B when you factor in the costs of vehicle ownership and parking. But it's not terribly reliable and a crowded bus is a sucky experience.

But if your default plan were to walk 10 or 20 minutes maybe the bus is a more desirable option if you don't have to pay for it.

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Voting closed 39

That it drew more new rides from walking and biking than cars, which is a big part of the argument for free T.

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Voting closed 21

I've never understood this framing. Transit exists to benefit the public, not to make a profit. You never hear people getting their knickers in a twist about "free roads" or "free mail delivery" or "free fire departments." Why do so many people bristle at the thought of "free transit?"

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Voting closed 82

This!!! All the roads are free. Why isn't public transportation free?

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Voting closed 49

Gas tax, excise tax, registration/license/inspection fees all go somewhere.

Not saying they can't or shouldn't go to "free" transit, but nothing is ever free.

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Voting closed 52

Taxes and fees paid by car owners constitute a tiny fraction of road infrastructure funding. Most funding comes from city property and state and federal income taxes - Ie taxes paid by many people who do not own cars but do bike or use public transit.

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Voting closed 46

You couldn't be more wrong.

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Voting closed 25

In MA, about 49% of road maintenance funding is from gas/ excise tax.
https://taxfoundation.org/states-road-funding-2019/

A large % of new construction is federal money, don’t have a %

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Voting closed 26

It’s less than half. The fact is that American car drivers are the biggest welfare recipients in the world.

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Voting closed 26

I can assure you that I pay my fair share (sales tax, excise tax, and gas tax) with the frequency at which I swap cars and the fact that they are almost always horrible on gas.

Maybe an Audi Etron RS is in the cards for my next car? That way I can still pay my fair share (sales tax and excise tax), but not spew green house gases. Might be able to sell the wife on a $142k car with that argument.

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Voting closed 17

Gas tax.

Even though it doesn’t pay for 100% of road costs, it doesn’t pay for 0% either.

And not all the roads are free. If you live in Framingham or Chelsea or East Boston, you pay a toll to drive to downtown Boston unless you waste time on slower roads.

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Voting closed 28

Cars cost society a lot more than just infrastructure. American car drivers kill 40,000 people per year and injure hundreds of thousands. Then there’s the environmental damage. And wars fought over oil.

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Voting closed 34

It's just that the cost of mailing an item is generally borne by the sender.

There are parts of the country where individual property owners are allowed to opt out of the local fire district. But if there's a fire, the local fire department will stand by and let the property burn to the ground -- although they'll try to keep the fire from spreading to adjacent properties. Some areas have volunteer fire departments.

And the roads aren't free. The various fees and taxes paid by motorists/truckers -- fuel taxes, registry fees, motor vehicle sales taxes, and tolls -- far exceed the state's expenditures for the roads. In fact, the MBTA and other RTAs receive a substantial chunk of their funding from the fees and taxes paid by drivers.

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Voting closed 25

You guys are all really doing a great job grasping my point... Jesus Christ

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I was just saying (or will expand) that small “user” fees aren’t really that crazy of a concept are they?

Pay a little tax on gas, buy a stamp, pay a bridge toll, etc. I think part of this concept is that it is feasible to collect something in these services.

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Voting closed 22

I mean you said:

You never hear people getting their knickers in a twist about "free roads" or "free mail delivery" or "free fire departments." Why do so many people bristle at the thought of "free transit?"

None of the things you mentioned are free (although fire departments are collectively-funded). And the T is already heavily-subsidized; farebox recovery was in the neighborhood of 30% before Covid (it's much lower now). But "free transit" will still cost several hundred million dollars a year and it will raise expenses. Removing fares will obviously increase ridership and on some routes that will require more service to meet demand; before Covid, morning demand on the buses from Southie to downtown was well above capacity, even with fares being charged. Back when the Green Line was free outbound above ground, the B line was often a miserably crowded experience with BU students using it as an unofficial campus shuttle service.

And there's still the question of how to pay for it. It doesn't exactly seem fair to ask the rest of the state to cough up even more money to support the T (since part of the statewide sales tax is directed to funding the T). If it's not statewide, which communities pay and which do not?

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Voting closed 24

Lol you are the one who originally griped about more people riding the bus because it is "free!" My point is that people bend the word free to suit their argument and try to stifle tax money being used on things that don't sit their lifestyle. I see a lotta smart guys in the comments saying "BuT fIReFiGhTeRs AreN't FreE!" Do you have to pay them when they show up to put out your house fire? No? Sounds free. Oh, but they're funded with tax money? So is the T. There's a difference between "free" and "free at the point of service" and a lot of people use that difference to make shitty, bad faith arguments.

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Voting closed 28

You are making shit up. Fees paid by drivers cover less than half the cost of road construction and maintenance.

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Voting closed 22

Cover less than half the cost of running it. What’s your point?

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Voting closed 19

I don’t understand your point?

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Voting closed 19

I feel like this graph doesn't lend itself to accurate interpretation. Can we rule out an increase in ridership proportional to existing ridership? Because it looks like ridership increased on most lines...

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...but the 28's incline seems steeper than others.

I'm not a statistician, but what other variable besides the "no pay" part would explain the difference in growth?

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I often take the bus from Mass Ave & Tremont to Boston Common. There are a lot of stops along Tremont, so what I do is start walking. If I have time and the weather is nice, I keep walking. If it's hot, cold, rainy, etc., and a bus comes, I hop on.

But there are plenty of times when my desire to "hop on" would change with the cost. For $2, in decent weather, I may as well keep walking. But for free, why not? I'll take the bus. (note, I'm also less likely to hop on a crowded bus, further affecting my calculation).

The free busses are an interesting experiment, but agree that if they don't take people out of their cars, the test is not as successful.

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Voting closed 27

adding that even riders who effectively did not save any money with the free-fare bus, because they had to transfer to buses that still require fares, felt they were saving money

Also, they must have felt that decreased boarding times saves time even though

the time it took an average 28 bus to complete its route actually increased over the course of the initial fare-free pilot.
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Voting closed 16

If you want to speed up boarding, you have to stop riders from standing in the front of the bus or by the back door when there's room to stand further in.

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… from walking. Because if the bus is coming and you’re only going a few blocks, you’re probably more likely to hop on if it doesn’t cost you a fare.
But I’m surprised it drew cyclists because you can usually get most places faster and directly on your bike than on a bus and you don’t have to wait for your bike.

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Voting closed 28

From Talbot to Columbia Road to show me that you have never going down BHA in your life.

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Voting closed 18

It’s a piece of cake, John Boy. Maybe not for you though.

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What are you talking about?

I know you don’t actually bike, but Talbot Ave to Columbia Road along Blue Hill Ave is barely an incline. Talbot/BHA/Seaver and Talbot/BHA/Circuit were routes I frequently biked with kids on single-speed bikes. The incline on Circuit Drive going the other way from Forest Hills is more difficult.

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As one who occasionally runs on Blue Hill Ave, I will say that there is a decent incline between Talbot Ave and Columbia Road. Thankfully, I run in the downhill direction.

Some people don't like running downhill, and there are dangers to doing it, but I will still swear up and down that it is far easier than going up hill. The hills I take before hitting this stretch are tough.

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Voting closed 16

As a (former) runner, the rap I hear on running downhill is that while it may be perceived as easier, it is putting more wear and tear on joints and cartilage. In other words, you're building muscle and have lower impact uphill, while downhill its all impact and marginal (if any) muscular gain.

A "slight decline" may not matter, but running down Washington from Stony Brook to Rozzie Sq could be a different story.

Long story...probably doesn't matter in your twenties, but something to consider 40+. I'm a "least resistance" guy myself and would much rather run downhill despite what I just typed.

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Voting closed 19

I swear, after the Southwest Corridor opened, the T wasn't charging for bus rides from Dudley Square to Ruggles. Sure, someone else remembers that. It made sense, as service to the square ended but the area was still a vital commercial spot.

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That policy started with the moving of the Orange Line in 1987, and continued until the CharlieCard was introduced around 2007, bringing with it a uniform transfer policy between subway and bus lines.

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