Fare-Free Transit Gains Momentum in Raleigh

The pandemic has provided a proving ground for fare-free transit in cities all over the country. For some cities, it might make fiscal sense for these experiments to be made permanent.

July 26, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A line of buses on campus at North Carolina State University, pictured with fall leaves on the ground.

Wileydoc / Shutterstock

Jake Blumgart reports from Raleigh, North Carolina, where the Covid-19 pandemic has helped advocates for fare-free transit win some political victories for their cause.

The article starts with the example of David Meeker, who before the pandemic estimated that it could take four or five years to pull off a fare-free transit campaign.

"But as COVID-19 swept over the country, the City Council acted quickly to scrap payments for bus riders. That would allow all-door boarding — minimizing interaction with the driver — and it would be a boon for beleaguered essential workers who still had to report to work," explains Blumgart. "In 2021, the City Council has extended the pandemic-era fare-free norm for another budget year. For Meeker and his allies, both in and out of government, this feels like the moment to lock in this policy change."

According to Blumgart, the fare-free proposition is different in a city like Raleigh, where 2 million people rode transit in 2019, than it would be in, for example, New York City or Washington, D.C. "[I]n 2019, the cost of running Raleigh’s bus network was over $31 million with fare revenues only coming to $3.4 million. When the amount spent on collecting that revenue is considered — paying people to collect and move large amounts of physical money — the actual amount is even less," explains Blumgart.

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