Complicating the Free Transit Vs. Service Debate

Pitting Washington, D.C.’s K Street Transitway against free transit oversimplifies a more complex issue.

2 minute read

May 15, 2023, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

A proposal to provide free transit service in lieu of a new multimodal transitway in Washington, D.C. sparked heated debate among transit advocates, but now the District’s transit users may not get either one, writes George Kevin Jordan in Streetsblog USA.

“In late April, two members of the D.C. Council grabbed headlines when they proposed scrapping the multimodal, $123-million K Street Transitway project — a long-fought road redesign which would prioritize bus service by featuring two separated bus lanes between 12th Street NW to 21st Street NW, among other multimodal improvements — and re-allocate its funding towards an initiative called Metro for D.C., allowing people to board a bus within District limits for free, no matter the final destination.”

Now, a request from Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board Chair Paul Smedberg to delay the free transit program prompts questions as to whether any transit improvements will be made at all. Jordan points out that the service-vs.-free fares debate misses the point, pointing out that it isn’t a question of a simple tradeoff.

Rather, each initiative comes with its own set of challenges and associated opportunities: “Under the surface of the debate are budgetary concerns for both the city and the WMATA, design concerns about the Transitway that some say would undermine its multimodal goals,” while the legislation that would fund the free fares program would also increase transit service. For now, “With D.C.’s budget still to be voted on, the future of both K-Street and Metro for D.C. seem to be up in the air.”

Thursday, May 11, 2023 in Streetsblog USA

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