Brendan Fitzpatrick

January 5, 2024

MWRTA Testing Fare-Free Rides Through State-Funded Program

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FRAMINGHAM - The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) is undertaking a state-funded pilot program that will provide local residents with free rides on certain routes through March 31.

The Massachusetts budget for fiscal year 2024 has allowed the MWRTA and 13 other regional transit authorities across the Commonwealth to use their share of $15 million as they see fit. The MWRTA is using their funding for the Try Transit program, which makes fixed route, ADA, and Demand Response rides free of charge through March’s end for anyone with a registered Catch Card, a resource similar to the MBTA’s CharlieCard.

“One of the things in the legislation: it asks us to prioritize ways to increase ridership and to make sure that we focus on low income individuals,” Administrator of the MWRTA Jim Nee said.

“So by focusing on that fixed route and the ADA service, we thought we were meeting the spirit of the legislation there.”

Nee explained that the MWRTA will be able to experiment with the concept of fare-free ridership through the pilot program. He added that the idea is “probably the way of the future,” though Try Transit gives the authority the chance to see how it works in the MetroWest area without having to make any service cuts due to lower revenue. With that, Nee sees the program as a way to increase vital transportation access throughout the region, as his team’s research showed that the average rider stands to save $60 to $200 over the course of Try Transit’s run in 2024.

“That’s someone’s grocery bill, or someone’s heating bill,” Nee continued.

“That’s someone getting a prescription that they might have differed because they didn’t have the money for it…It’s approximately two-thirds of all public transit riders nationwide have a household income—not a personal income, but a household income—of under $15,000 per year. So we are transporting people who, really, $60 to $200 over two months, that can make a real difference.”

In the meantime, Nee said that the MWRTA is still thinking of additional ideas to boost the quality and convenience of their services. The organization is currently in the process of adding incentives to the Catch Card system, according to the administrator, that would reward frequent riders with things such as discounted rides or merchandise. MWRTA Catch Cards can be picked up at their Blandin Avenue headquarters or from drivers throughout their system.

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