Can New York Legislators Make Buses Free While Improving Service?

A pair of state legislators hope to make buses free while improving service levels on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) bus system in New York City. The effort will require a new level of political will for transit.

2 minute read

December 19, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

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Two New York Legislators are about to test the limits of the political will to build and fund transit.

Assemblymember Zohran K. Mamdani and state Senator Michael Gianaris proposed a legislative package called “Save the MTA” last week that aims to save the MTA from a looming fiscal emergency by making buses free.

“Free bus service would be phased in over the next four years under the plan, except on express buses. The phase-in would go borough-by-borough, starting with the Bronx in the first year, then Brooklyn the following year, then Queens, and finally Manhattan and Staten Island,” reports Ben Brachfeld in an article for AMNY.

“The proposal would also freeze transit fares at $2.75, rejecting a fare increase sought by the MTA likely to bring the cost of a ride over $3 by 2025. It would also require 6-minutes-or-better subway service and a 20% increase in bus service systemwide,” adds Brachfield.

The entire package is expected to cost $3.26—a total described by Assemblymember Mamdani and State Senator Gianaris as a drop in the bucket of the state’s government.

“Immediate funding could come from remitting the internet sales tax back to the MTA, bringing in about $329 million annually, and by extending the MTA’s ability to engage in “value capture” whereby part of the increased economic activity generated by transit investment, like real estate development, is reinvested in the system,” reports Brachfield. “More money could come from increased taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, with progressives recently calling on the state to levy $40 billion in new taxes on the rich to fund essential public services.”

Much of the recent criticism of fare-free transit, including an article published on Planetizen last week, assumes that free transit comes at the expense of capital and service improvements.

Thursday, December 15, 2022 in AMNY

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