Tuesday, the DC Council passed Metro for DC, a bill that will ease the financial burden of commuting for DC residents. It will make all bus routes that begin in the District fare-free; add 12 overnight bus routes; create a $10 million improvement fund; and establish a $100 monthly SmarTrip subsidy program for DC residents.
When will it go into effect? Everything but the subsidy is expected to happen by July 2023. Starting this summer, DC riders won’t have to tap a card when they board a bus. The bad news: if riders board in Maryland or Virginia, they will have to pay a fare. DC council member Charles Allen, who introduced the bill before the pandemic, estimates that fare-free buses will increase efficiency by 20 to 30 percent because riders will no longer have to wait for people to line up and tap their cards when they board.
One element of the bill that will take a bit longer: those $100 transportation subsidies, which can be used on Metro trains, buses, streetcars, and the Circulator. Though Allen says he expects the subsidy to roll out in 2024, its implementation will depend on funding, and its costs have taken longer to calculate.
The council wanted to focus on changes that would have the most impact, and pandemic data showed that even when rail ridership plummeted, bus usage was more stable because essential workers used those routes. “The pandemic helped build a stronger political will to get [fare-free buses] done,” Allen says. “It was at the heart of what we did with the bill, but now more people see it and how important it was.”
The next step for the bill is getting a signature from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has expressed some skepticism. When asked by a reporter at a December 2 press conference if she supported fare-free buses, Bowser said, “Metro is part of a compact and we are a one-third payer in that compact. So if we’re going to be paying, Maryland and Virginia need to be paying… I have to give that some serious thought in the budget process.”
The mayor’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment about her support of Metro for DC since it was passed by the DC Council.