Janey hands out the goodies
Free bus service could be a campaign boon
COULD FREE BUS SERVICE along Blue Hill Avenue in 2021 do for Kim Janey what putting the brakes on city water rates did for Tom Menino in 1993?
In 1993, then-Acting Mayor Menino declared a freeze on water rates in Boston. With the tab coming due for a massive court-ordered cleanup of Boston Harbor, water rates, normally not much of a hot-button issue, were soaring and becoming a major pocketbook concern for ratepayers. Never mind that Menino’s authority to make such a unilateral declaration was unclear. It was a clear winner with residents, and some think it helped seal his lead and pave the way to a big victory that fall.
On Monday, Acting Mayor Janey announced a three-month pilot program of free bus service on the MBTA’s Route 28. The bus route forms a spine running through the heart of Boston’s Black community — from Mattapan Square to Nubian Square. The T is under state control, but Boston officials were able to work the deal by committing $500,000 in city funds to the transit agency to make up for lost fare revenue during the pilot.
In May, Janey got out ahead of herself, declaring about the free-fare pilot program, “I’m launching that now as mayor.” The plan was only under discussion at the time with T officials. But now it’s happening, with the program slated to run from August 29 to November 29.
Left unsaid — but not unnoticed — was the third big benefit. As the Dorchester Reporter’s Gin Dumcius pointed out, the pilot program dates happen to overlap with both the September mayoral preliminary election and the November 2 final election — a contest Janey is vying in along with four other major candidates.
Janey has made much of her status as a non-car-owning regular rider of MBTA buses and trains, and that certainly gives her added credibility in talking about T service issues. “As someone who depends, like many Bostonians, on consistent and reliable MBTA service, I know firsthand how vital Route 28 is for the economic corridor that connects Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester,” she said in announcing the free-fare pilot.
But when it comes to pushing the envelope on transit policy, particularly in advocating for free fares, it’s mayoral rival Michelle Wu who has led the charge.
Two years ago, Wu and Janey cosponsored a City Council hearing on the idea of offering free fares on the Route 28 bus, but it was three years ago that Wu began talking up the idea of free transit fares. It was seen as a bit pie-in-the-sky at the time, but in the short time since then, free bus fare programs have been launched in Lawrence, Worcester, and Brockton.
In an effort to further burnish her transit policy bonafides, Wu not only appeared at Janey’s Monday announcement of the Route 28 pilot program, she released a 17-page white paper the same day outlining plans for a broader pilot of free bus fares than includes two additional routes — one that connects East Boston and Chelsea and another connecting Mission Hill and Allston with the Longwood Medical Area and Harvard Square.“Today’s announcement shows that free bus service is possible in Boston when we organize to make it happen, but we don’t just need one free route through Election Day—we need a system that reaches across our city,” Wu said in a statement that zinged the timing of the three-month pilot.
Wu may have been out early on the issue of free transit fares. Janey is counting on voters connecting her with the announcement that it’s finally happening.