Op-ed | MTA fare-free buses pilot coming to five routes

Brooklyn’s B60 bus is one of five routes that will be fare-free for six months.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Starting this week, the MTA is trying something different: launching a limited fare-free buses pilot on five routes. We’ve never done anything like this before, barring a brief interruption to fare payments during COVID. But this administration isn’t afraid to try new things in the name of transit equity – and with the necessary funding secured by Governor Hochul and the State Legislature in this year’s budget, we decided to go for it. 

Choosing which routes to include in this experiment was a thoughtful process. We considered several factors, things like ridership, fare evasion, service adequacy, transit connections, and access to jobs and commercial centers. In the end, we landed on one in each borough — the Bx18 A/B, B60, M116, Q4 Local/Limited, and S46/96. 

These routes collectively serve nearly 44,000 daily riders. To avoid confusion for them – and for riders on the hundreds of still paid routes – the free buses will be clearly marked “Fare Free” with green and black destination signage, digital displays and decals inside those buses. Covers will also be installed on the farebox and on OMNY readers. I’ll remind participants that free transfers to other buses or the subway will not be part of the pilot, which will last for six months to a year. 

At every step, the Transit team will be closely monitoring the impact on ridership and fare evasion. We all know that the latter is a major issue on buses, costing the MTA $315 million in lost revenue last year alone. To make sure customers on paid routes don’t skip the fare, EAGLE teams – uniformed and unarmed MTA officers – will be patrolling routes that are not free. 

We’re also focused on moving buses faster by expanding the use of Automated Bus Lane Enforcement (ABLE) in Brooklyn and Queens. The latest activation is coming on the B26 route; it’s our fourth this year and 20th overall. Now our network of cameras is up to 585 systemwide – great news for us and a warning to drivers. If you invade bus lanes, you will be pay the price for disrupting service with a fine. 

Everything comes back to my North Star goal of providing world-class customer service and a Faster, Cleaner, Safer commute for the millions of people who rely on our services every day. None of it would be possible without the 47,000-strong Transit workforce, who show up 24/7, 365, rain or shine, to move New York. They never fail to amaze me with their tenacity and devotion to the job, and I want to thank them for all that they do as we move into the next phase of the City’s revival.  

Richard Davey is MTA New York City Transit President.