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Boston and Cambridge eyeing MBTA’s 1 bus for fare-free route

The 1 bus, which runs from Harvard Square in Cambridge to Nubian Square in Roxbury, is among the MBTA’s most popular routes.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Monday that the city is in talks with Cambridge to eliminate fares on the MBTA's route 1 bus. Jim Davis/Globe Staff, File

Boston and Cambridge are in talks to make the MBTA’s route 1 bus fare-free, Mayor Michelle Wu said during a WBUR appearance Monday. 

Speaking on “Radio Boston,” Wu said Boston is looking for ways to expand its fare-free bus program — which currently covers the 23, 28, and 29 bus routes — and is exploring partnerships with other municipalities. 

“We’ve been working very closely with Cambridge,” Wu said. “The 1 bus is such a well-used route. It also gets very much slowed down in traffic, and so it would be one of these examples where we could document and show the benefits of people being able to get on and ride for free, board on all doors.” 


She called the bus route, which runs from Harvard Square in Cambridge to Nubian Square in Roxbury, “a key to the regional economy.” The 1 bus is among the MBTA’s most popular routes, Massachusetts Department of Transportation ridership data shows. 

More on fare-free buses:

Boston’s conversations with Cambridge are “in progress,” Wu said. “We’re not quite there yet, and this would involve the MBTA signing off, as well.” 

Cambridge convened a Fare-Free Working Group last year to explore a fare-free bus pilot and is working on a pilot program based off of the group’s recommendations, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui told the Boston Herald in March.

In an email to Boston.com, Cambridge said it began working with Boston about a year ago to make the 1 bus fare-free. 

“We’ve had conversations with the MBTA together and are working on the final pieces about cost and timing,” a city spokesperson said, adding that Cambridge has dedicated American Rescue Plan Act funds toward the project. 

“A fare-free bus route will provide savings to people who depend on public transit and have limited access to other travel options,” the spokesperson said. “Boston’s fare-free pilot demonstrates that people will use buses more often and will come back to riding the T. As we recover from the pandemic, a fare-free Route #1 is an effective first step for a more fair transit system.”


Under Boston’s fare-free program, the city appropriated $8 million in federal pandemic relief funds to reimburse the MBTA for lost fares over two years. The program has shown some signs of success at the one-year mark, with ridership on the fare-free routes growing up to three times as fast as the rest of the MBTA bus system, the city said in a March report

The state Legislature has not set aside direct funding for fare-free transit, though last year’s transportation bond bill allows the MBTA and Regional Transit Authorities to borrow $6.95 million for fare-free bus pilot programs, The Boston Globe reported. 

At the national level, Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ayanna Pressley reintroduced legislation on Monday to make more buses fare-free by providing $5 billion per year over five years to state and local governments considering fare-free transit programs.

Wu, who joined Pressley and Markey at a press conference announcing the renewed push for the “Freedom to Move Act,” said Boston has achieved operational efficiencies by not collecting bus fares on some routes.  

“It’s slowing down routes when we are asking people to queue up and find their forms of payment and all that,” she told “Radio Boston” host Tiziana Dearing.


“Transit agencies everywhere need to rethink how they fund their services,” Wu said. “It’s not working, and the bit that comes from bus revenues is just a teeny tiny bit that in fact should go to making it more efficient.”


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