A fare-free bus is taking shape in Boston

Acting Mayor Kim Janey says she will launch a pilot to make the 28 bus, one of the busiest in the MBTA system, free.

Passengers wait for their bus in a shelter at the MBTA's Nubian Station, then called Dudley Station, in February 2020.

A fare-free bus is coming to Boston — eventually.

After several years of discussing the idea in abstract, Boston officials say they’re planning to try out a free line running from Mattapan to Roxbury.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who is one of six hopefuls running for a full term as mayor, announced during a candidate forum Monday that her administration is launching free service on a bus route running from Mattapan Square to Grove Hall to Nubian Square.

In a statement to Boston.com, her office confirmed that they are “working with the MBTA on a free bus pilot on the Route 28 line,” a north-south line that mostly runs along Blue Hill Avenue through Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury.


In the statement, Janey said that she looks forward to launching the initiative.

Some key details, including when the pilot will begin, remain unclear.

City and MBTA officials are still discussing the final plan, including the timing and duration of such a pilot, public health and operational implications, and program costs, according to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

The Boston Globe reported last month that city officials hoped to run the pilot program in tandem with the final round of reopenings from the COVID-19 pandemic, which were then scheduled for August, before more recently being moved up to this Saturday.

Janey — who, as City Council president, was elevated to acting mayor when former mayor Marty Walsh stepped down to become U.S. labor secretary in March — had proposed the idea of eliminating fares on the 28 bus in 2019 alongside fellow City Councilor Michelle Wu, who helped popularize the idea of free public transportation (Wu is also a candidate for mayor).

The 28 line runs along a major economic corridor, terminating at Ruggles Station and taking many commuters to jobs in the Longwood Medical Area. Before the pandemic, the 28 bus was the MBTA’s third-busiest line, with nearly 12,000 riders a weekday. As of this month, it continued to average 7,000 riders a weekday, nearly the most of any line in the system, according to a report Monday by MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.


Last year, city officials also proposed installing bus-only lanes on Blue Hill Avenue.

Janey, Wu, and City Councilor Andrea Campbell have all expressed support for more sweeping fare elimination on Boston buses, which they say would remove financial barriers for poorer residents and potentially speed up service. City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George has also expressed support for piloting free service on select bus routes in underserved communities, including the 28 line.

Janey had previously said she was looking into ways to make the 28 bus free, adding that state or federal revenues could help cover some of the costs. The MBTA, which is in the midst of a $1 billion upgrade to its fare collection system, has also expressed hesitancy about any moves that would jeopardize fare revenue.

The forthcoming pilot comes after Janey’s administration rolled out a pilot offering free MBTA and Bluebikes passes preloaded with $60 to 1,000 workers in five business districts hard hit by the pandemic to see how financial incentives might impact commuting behavior.

“Public transit is a key part of my agenda to make Boston a more equitable and resilient city,” Janey said in her statement this week.


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