New York Lawmakers Urge Governor Hochul to Expand NYC Fare-Free Bus Pilot Program

Ten members of the U.S. Congress from New York City are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to expand the city’s ongoing Fare-Free Bus Pilot Program. In a letter sent on Monday, the lawmakers requested an allocation of $45 million in the final state budget for FY 2025 to achieve this goal.

The current pilot program, launched last year, provides free rides on one bus route in each of the five boroughs. This initiative aims to study the impact of fare-free service on ridership, accessibility, equity, and fare evasion.

“While the study is still ongoing, reports indicate strong public support for expanding the program, along with increased ridership on existing free routes,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. They believe expanding the pilot to three routes per borough, for a total of 15 citywide, would provide the MTA with a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits of fare-free transit.

According to New York City Transit Authority President Richard Davey, the pilot has already seen ridership increases of up to 20% on free routes.

The proposed legislation prioritizes selecting routes based on ridership data, existing service quality, and access for low-income communities and areas with high employment and commercial activity.

Supporters of the expansion highlight the potential economic and social benefits. Fare-free buses are seen as a faster and safer option, while also offering financial relief to a significant portion of New York commuters who rely on buses and often have lower incomes. Data shows that bus riders have an average income of $30,000, with Hispanic and Black New Yorkers relying on buses for their commutes at twice the rate of white New Yorkers.

The lawmakers also requested an additional $45 million to improve MTA bus service reliability and frequency. Currently, MTA buses are the slowest in the nation. This additional funding would aim to address that issue alongside expanding fare-free options.

The letter is signed by U.S. Representatives Grace Meng, Dan Goldman, Jamaal Bowman, Nydia M. Velázquez, Gregory Meeks, Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clarke, Adriano Espaillat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ritchie Torres.

The full text of the letter is below: 

Dear Governor Hochul,

As Members of New York City’s Congressional Delegation, we respectfully request your support for expanding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Fare-Free Bus Pilot in the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 state budget. This pilot launched one fare-free bus route in each borough through last year’s state budget, finally introducing New York to the economic and social benefits of free public transit. To bring these benefits to more communities, we ask you to support appropriations in the final state budget of $45 million to expand this crucial pilot and $45 million to expand bus service reliability and frequency.

According to the MTA, the purpose of the pilot is to study how fare-free service affects ridership, access, equity, and fare evasion. And while the study has not yet concluded, reports indicate not only strong support for fare-free service expansion, but also increased ridership under the program. Millions of New Yorkers and visitors rely on the MTA to access economic and educational opportunity. An expansion of the Fare-Free Bus Pilot with additional routes will give the MTA a more wholistic understanding of fare-free transit’s benefits in New York.

In addition to the MTA’s study, there are already proven models for fare-free service and its benefit to ridership and equity throughout the country. In Boston, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) instituted a four year-long fare-free bus program in 2022 that increased ridership to roughly 16 percent from pre-pandemic levels in the program’s first year. This encouraging result should instill confidence that expanding the MTA’s pilot program is a sound investment in our city.

Most importantly, expanding this pilot program is an investment in a more equitable public transit system. Giving New Yorkers more free bus routes will increase the dynamism of our communities and reduce the financial burden of accessing transit for low-and-middle-income New Yorkers. At the same time, this program makes our city more affordable and more connected. That is why we encourage this crucial investment in the MTA’s Fare-Free Bus Pilot in the final FY 2025 budget.

Finally, we request $45 million to increase frequency and improve reliability of MTA buses, which are currently the slowest in the nation. New Yorkers deserve not just more affordable transit, but higher quality transit as well.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.