Opinion: To Increase Equity, Make Buses Free

With buses as a dominant transport mode for low-income households and "essential workers," free fares would increase access to economic opportunities and free up limited income for cash-strapped commuters.

October 12, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Virginia

f11photo / Shutterstock

In an op-ed, Wyatt Gordon and Faith Walker argue for the right to free transit, claiming that "to liberate ourselves from car-dependency, save the planet, and right the wrongs of the past, the bus should be free."

According to Gordon and Walker, "[t]he bus epitomizes a public good: it’s available to all, and society is better off the more people use it." Yet "[u]nlike other public services such as libraries and schools, we expect the bus to pay for itself, largely on the backs of the working poor who take it." In Richmond and other cities like it, the bus is run by a private company.

The bus isn't just useful to those who ride it, say the authors.

[W]hether you even know what GRTC [Greater Richmond Transit Company] stands for or not, you and your lifestyle are transit-reliant. The nurses in your hospital, the clerks at your local supermarket, and the custodians at your office or university represent just a fraction of the folks that rely upon the bus every day to get to work, to pick up their kids from school, and to shop or to seek out healthcare. Without access to fast, frequent, and reliable public transit, much of our economy and our society would come to a screeching halt.

Free transit can help people access jobs and opportunities, get kids to school, and provide crucial access to healthcare. Pointing to how eliminating bus fare can increase equity, the authors point out that "a full 89 percent of GRTC’s riders have household incomes below the state median," while more than half live below the federal poverty line. "If the bus were free like many other public services we all rely upon, Central Virginia’s poorest would get to keep that cash to pay for other essential expenses like housing, food, and healthcare. Going fare free functions as a backdoor boost to wages by allowing those who take transit to work to keep more of their money."

Gordon and Walker conclude that "[i]f our goal is to expand the freedom of our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors, then eliminating bus fares is one of the most straightforward and equitable actions we can take."

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 in NextCity

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