How Free Fares Could Benefit Bus Drivers

Free transit would reduce boarding times and improve working conditions for bus drivers, the 'frontline workers' responsible for fare collection and enforcement.

September 14, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


New York MTA Bus

Sorbis / Shutterstock

As the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) launches a fare-free pilot program on Boston's heavily used Route 28 bus, "Abdallah Fayyad urges city and MBTA officials to study not only the effect of free fares on ridership but also their effect on the bus drivers." Sandy Smith reports on Fayyad's essay, in which he argues that eliminating fares would also benefit bus drivers, "the frontline workers responsible for collecting fares and enforcing fare policy."

Bus drivers routinely "face both verbal and physical abuse from riders when they do discourage fare evasion," and "even if violence never occurs, the competing pressures of time and policy enforcement lead to arbitrary and capricious application of policy." In 2008, "a New York City bus driver was fatally stabbed over an unpaid fare." Meanwhile, "punishment for fare evasion falls disproportionately on the shoulders of Black and brown passengers." 

According to Fayyad, "free public transit would create more equitable cities and increase people’s mobility. And beyond the benefits to residents and commuters, a fare-free transit system would undoubtedly improve working conditions for bus drivers."

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