Since the DC Council has passed the bill regarding waiving off ride fare for everyone, the wheels on the bus, for the people of DC, will apparently go round and round for free. Starting July 1, 2023, the D.C. government will subsidize bus travel inside the city limits, enabling riders to board for free. Council member Charles Allen said the bill “makes the District a national leader in the future of public transit.”
- Four main parts of the Metro4DC bill
- Free trips are limited to DC
- Cost breakdown
- District can save on the subsidy through fare-free DC metro
- Mayor Muriel’s Concern
- DC is not the first city to offer free bus service
The Metro for D.C. bill, which was presented by Councilmember Charles Allen, received its final unanimous vote in the D.C. Council on Tuesday. The bill also introduces a $100 monthly balance on registered SmarTrip cards for D.C. residents commencing in 2024, in addition to free bus service.
Four main parts of the Metro4DC bill
The four salient points of the bill are:
- Starting next summer, all WMATA buses in D.C. will be free for passengers (residents and visitors).
- 12 bus lines will offer overnight service.
- $10 million will be set aside for bus lanes, shelters, and other improvements.
- All residents of D.C. will receive a monthly subsidy of $100 to use on Metrorail, buses outside of D.C., and other SmarTrip locations.
Free trips are limited to DC
The free rides are only available for journeys that begin in the District and terminate in Maryland or Virginia. The District Department of Transportation’s Circulator bus system will continue to charge $1 for trips starting outside of Washington, D.C. D.C. officials praised the decision and expressed their hope that Maryland and Virginia lawmakers will do the same.
Chairman Phil Mendelson affixed a 42 million dollar sticker price to the bill for D.C. taxpayers in the coming fiscal year. Every year following that, the cost will increase by 5%. The program’s estimated first-year costs include $32 million for providing free bus rides and another $8.5 million for operating Metrobus rides overnight on the busiest bus routes. The bill also grants a $100 allowance to DC residents for other means of public transportation and allocates a total of $146.6 million over four years to support the entire scheme.
District can save on the subsidy through fare-free DC metro
Allen previously stated that D.C. residents’ SmartTrip cards would be topped up to $100 if they didn’t use the whole $100 subsidy on them within a month. Making the buses free will save the District between $36 million and $38 million on the subsidies, he said in the statement.
Mayor Muriel’s Concern
Mayor Muriel Bowser welcomes the idea but is apprehensive about its budget and wrote to Council members: “District residents and taxpayers will have to pay for this program. Our neighbors, Virginia and Maryland, should absorb some of these costs as their residents will benefit from this program as well.”
DC is not the first city to offer free bus service
The bill claims that D.C. is the “first major city” to provide free bus travel, however that may not be the case depending on your definition of a major city. Kansas City, Missouri, was previously touted as the first to implement a fare-free bus ridership scheme in 2020. According to a Mid-America Regional Council study, Kansas City’s free public transit system has been more robust in terms of usage than comparable systems.
The bill, according to Chairman Mendelson and Councilman Alan, aims to increase reliability, minimize fare evasion, enhance bus ridership, decrease traffic congestion, and help accelerate bus services without requiring passengers to stop and pay fares.
DC Metro Map