The Highhill, Massachusetts Board of Directors, based on the Merrimack Valley Regional Transportation Authority (MVRTA) has unanimously voted for a free exit for all local scheduled services and EZ Trans paratransit starting March 1, for a pilot of at least two years. Fares will still be charged on the Boston passenger bus.
The pilot is an extension of the Lawrence City-funded initiative, which has covered tariffs on three local lines in Lawrence since September 2019. The MVRTA will use the Federal Law on Assistance, Relief and Economic Security in Corona (CARES) and the American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) funds for the pilot.
One of the pilot’s local champion in the free fare is Congresswoman Lori Trahan, MA-3, who called the “decision to waive fares for riders from the Marimac Valley Regional Transportation Authority replacing a game for people across the region who rely on public transportation for their travels.” She noted that she is particularly pleased to see the work she is doing in Washington beneficial to homecoming riders. “I was proud to vote for the CARES law last year and to applaud the board for dedicating funding from the aid package for the use of aid to Merrimack Valley residents and small businesses working to recover from the plague,” she said.
Some of the many benefits of a free transportation system include winning riders who stopped riding during the COVID-19 epidemic, returning dollars to the local economy, increased access for people who find it difficult to afford transportation, faster and more efficient travel, and reducing conflicts between drivers and passengers. In addition, another factor that supports the budget board’s decision to withdraw from the free travel price is the high cost and inefficiency of fare collection. As MVRTA Director Noah Berger noted, “For every dollar we collect in tariffs, we see only less than 24 cents when we take into account the fully allocated costs of tariff collection.”
“I’m really excited about this pilot,” said MVRTA spokeswoman Niorka Mendez, adding that “the free exit will attract new riders, increase sponsorship for our local businesses, offer financial relief to families relying on our service, and connect people to jobs and other economic opportunities.”