DC residents might be catching buses for free as soon as this summer, according to a new addition to the Metro For DC bill, which is expected to pass the city council on Tuesday. If it does pass, DC will become the first major city in the country to provide free bus service to its residents.
“This is a big deal,” DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson stated in a press release this morning. “There’s no question it will encourage more folks to use public transit, which means numerous benefits, from reducing congestion to improving the environment to stabilizing WMATA.”
The fare-free service would only apply to bus stops within the District. Another major addition to the bill: funding that would provide overnight service for 12 major bus lines.
The bill, first introduced by Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen in early 2020, still includes its original proposal of $100 monthly Metro stipends for DC residents (although the city “might” revisit the $100 number, given that bus use would be free under the bill, said Mendelson). Although the stipends were previously planned to take off “sometime in 2023,” they are now being tentatively pushed back to October 2024.
A $10 million fund for improving the speed, reliability, and comfort of the city’s bus service is also still included in the bill. The city’s excess revenue, which is projected to grow, would fund the programs.
All DC residents, regardless of income, would receive the bill’s benefits, including the fare-free bus service and Metro stipends. One reason for that: creating and maintaining an income verification system is too expensive, said Allen. He noted that 70 percent of Metro riders already earn less than $50,000 a year.
“We don’t need to go do a lot of complicated math to know that we can make a dramatic improvement for low and middle income DC residents by making this change right away,” said Allen at a press conference this morning. He emphasized his belief that public transit is inherently a public good.
“I’m not going to means test your sidewalk,” said Allen. “I won’t means test your roads or your libraries or your schools. If you believe public transit is a public good, it is a public good and that is going to be something that is crucial.”
The bill, which has 10 co-sponsors, will go before the Committee of the Whole and the full council on Tuesday.
We’ll be the first major city in the US to provide free bus service. This will be game changer for bus users; reliable schedules and faster boarding. This is a big deal!
— Phil Mendelson (@ChmnMendelson) December 1, 2022