WRTA votes to continue fare-free operations

Decision will be reviewed in another 6 months

THE ADVISORY BOARD of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority voted on Thursday to extend fare-free operations at least another six months until early next year.

The vote was unanimous, although the board chair, William Lehtola, and the authority’s administrator, Dennis Lipka, opposed the move. Lehtola abstained on the vote.

The move is another victory for those pushing to make more and more transit services free. The fare-free movement has been making some gains across Massachusetts, but it is facing strong resistance from some transit administrators. The MBTA, for example, is considering a fare-free bus pilot requested by Acting Mayor Kim Janey, but overall the authority and its oversight board would prefer to reduce fares for those with low incomes. Such a policy would not be possible until a new fare collection system is installed over the next few years.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Worcester went fare free in March last year, which allowed passengers to board at all doors and more easily maintain social distancing. Fare collections were scheduled to resume in July, but the board decided on Thursday to put off any action until December.

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority has used federal pandemic aid to keep its buses running without any fare revenue coming in. Ridership has returned to about 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels, a spokeswoman said.

Officials said it’s unclear whether the federal aid , which has been used to offset losses due to COVID, can now be used to cover losses due to a policy decision to not collect fares. The WRTA spokeswoman said fares bring in $3.5 million a year.