Meng, Goldman urge Hochul to expand NYC fare-free bus pilot

Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference in the Red Room at the State Capitol.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Congressional Reps. Grace Meng (D-Queens) and Dan Goldman (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn) were among several persons who wrote a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday, requesting the expansion of New York City’s Fare-Free Bus Pilot Program.

As New York State budget negotiations continue, the proposal to allocate appropriations of $45 million to expand a fare-free bus pilot and $45 million to expand bus service reliability and frequency has support from both houses of the state Legislature.

“According to the MTA, the purpose of the pilot is to study how fare-free service affects ridership, access, equity, and fare evasion,” said the lawmakers in their letter. “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,” they added. “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.”

The legislators said that the pilot created 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.”

The proposed $45 million would expand this crucial pilot to three lines per borough, or 15 lines across New York City.

According to New York City Transit Authority President Richard Davey, the fare-free bus pilot has already led to an increase of up to 20 percent in ridership on free routes.

The proposed legislation to expand the fare-free bus pilot includes requirements that at least three routes be selected in each of the five boroughs.

“Routes will be chosen based on ridership, service adequacy, and equity for low-income communities, as well as access to employment and commercial activity,” the congressional representatives said.

“Fare-free buses are faster, safer, and provide economic relief to a disproportionately working-class segment of New York commuters,” they said.

The legislators said the average income of bus riders is $30,000.

They said Hispanic (14 percent) and Black New Yorkers (16 percent) are twice as likely to use buses in their commutes as White New Yorkers (7 percent).

“MTA buses are currently the slowest in the nation,” the congressional representatives said. “The appropriation of $45 million would not only make buses more affordable but improves service across the MTA bus network.”

Besides Meng and Godman, the letter to Hochul was signed by eight other members of the New York City Congressional delegation:  Bowman, Velázquez, Meeks, Nadler, Clarke, Espaillat, Ocasio-Cortez and Torres.