Ayanna Pressley and Ed Markey propose a bill to encourage fare-free transit


Rep. Ayanna Pressley has mentioned she loves the concept of a fare-free MBTA.

Now, the Massachusetts congresswoman is proposing a federal program to encourage officers throughout the nation to eradicate public transit fares.

Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey launched a invoice Friday to create a $5 billion grant program to assist native governments that implement fare-free bus and rail programs and in any other case spend money on methods to extend transit entry in traditionally underserved communities.

“Our public transit systems are meant to provide communities with the mobility and freedom to access critical services, but far too many in the Massachusetts 7th and across the country lack reliable, safe, and affordable transit service,” Pressley mentioned in an announcement.

“By supporting state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transit systems, we can provide low-income workers and families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities with improved access to jobs, education, and medical care, all while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions,” Markey added.

The invoice is the second time Markey and Pressley have collaborated on laws this week; on Thursday, the 2 Massachusetts Democrats proposed a federal ban on facial recognition expertise.

It additionally comes on the heels of a letter Pressley and two-dozen different Democrats despatched to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, calling for a $250 billion funding to assist hard-hit public transportation agencies within the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The invoice launched Friday — formally named the Freedom to Move Act — would give out the grants to offset the price of misplaced fares, which have been the first concern of skeptics of creating public transit free.

For instance, earlier than the pandemic, MBTA fares accounted for almost $700 million in income, or roughly a 3rd of the company’s annual funds. MBTA bus fares are a small fraction of that, however nonetheless add up to over $100 million.

Some smaller American cities, together with Lawrence, have made their bus programs free at a a lot decrease value. Others have suspended fare enforcement during the pandemic.

But no matter value, Pressley’s workplace says transit must be handled like a public good, like hearth departments or colleges, which the federal government offers no matter residents’ means to pay.

“The Freedom to Move Act invests heavily in our public transit systems so that states and localities can offer safe, high-quality, and fare-free rides, and would ensure that everyone in [a] community—including our essential workers who depend heavily on public transportation—can access jobs, food and essential services like education and health care,” the Boston Democrat mentioned.

Under the laws, aggressive, five-year grants could be awarded to municipal, county, and state governments primarily based on their plans to implement fare-free transit. According to a senior Pressley aide, choices vary from making their total system free to eliminating fares on sure routes or modes, notably in locations which can be at the moment underserved.

The program would additionally require localities to indicate how they might make bus service extra “safe, frequent, and reliable,” in addition to how they might shut transit gaps, the place the shortage of reasonably priced public transportation exacerbates financial and racial disparities by way of entry to jobs, training, and well being.

In addition to offsetting the price of eliminating fares, the grant funds could possibly be used for bus community redesigns, bus-only lanes, infrastructure enhancements, and protecting the operational prices of assembly the calls for of elevated ridership, together with hiring extra staff.

Grant candidates would even have to finish any insurance policies that criminalize fare evasion.

The invoice requires grants to be awarded to each city and rural governments and directs the U.S. transportation secretary to problem a report inside three years on whether or not this system helps native governments obtain their transit entry targets.

Advocates are assured that it could.

The laws has been endorsed by a coalition of each Boston-area and nationwide environmental and transit advocacy teams, together with the Transport Workers Union, which represents 150,000 transit staff nationwide.

“The legislation would allow public transit to live up to its promise of improving the quality of life for everyone,” mentioned John Samuelsen, the union’s president.

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who has championed the concept of eliminating MBTA fares, mentioned Friday that “all communities benefit with cleaner air, safer streets, and faster commutes.”

“Public transportation is a public good, and I am grateful for the leadership of Representative Pressley, Senator Markey and this coalition to move us closer to realizing the promise of equity and opportunity for every community,” Wu mentioned in an announcement.

According to her aide, Pressley is optimistic that the Freedom to Move Act will achieve traction because the House considers the INVEST Act, a serious infrastructure invoice launched earlier this month that features provisions geared toward enhancing public transportation.

Last fall, Pressley co-founded the Future of Transportation Caucus geared toward shifting federal investments towards public transit and away from automobiles — the place laws has traditionally centered on the expense of many low-income communities of coloration. For instance, researchers discovered that Black folks, who disproportionately use public transit, spend more time commuting than different racial teams, an inconvenience that has downstream consequences on financial mobility.

Given the significance of “connectivity,” Pressley advised Boston.com after founding the brand new congressional caucus that transportation is finally a “social justice issue.”

“We can do the work of making a more livable city, and jobs that treat people with dignity, and housing that is quality and affordable, and all of those things,” she mentioned on the time. “But if people can’t navigate the city to get to work, to get to childcare, to get to school, it really is all in vain.”