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Michelle Wu defends fight for fare-free transit

Mayor Michelle Wu rode the fare-free 29 bus at the start of the program last year.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who has long pushed for fare-free transit, defended that position on Twitter on Tuesday in response to a Vox article that suggested such efforts could distract from the goal of providing reliable quality service.

“What a cynical, shortsighted take. Truly disappointing to see @MassDOT and @MBTA framed in here rejecting public transit as a public good,” Wu tweeted. “Reliability & access must go hand in hand.”

The Vox article by David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, argued that for transit leaders to convince residents and legislators that transit is worthy of investment, officials must display their ability to provide “fast, frequent, and reliable trips,” that can replace car use and “not just serve economically disadvantaged people who lack other means to get around their city.”


It also said that electrifying bus fleets was a distraction, and that officials would be better off meeting climate goals by trying to nudge people out of cars and into buses.

The article quoted Massachusetts’ undersecretary of transportation, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, who said that transit officials are being asked to do so much, from the modernizing transportation to lowering fares, that they cannot focus on improving transit reliability.

“The fare-free dialogue can make it more difficult to win statewide support” for funding transit, Tibbits-Nutt said. “It continues to focus the conversation on the city of Boston” rather than the interests of those living outside the city, she told Vox.

“Agree we urgently need sustainable funding for public transit, but local bus fares are <10% of @MBTA revenues & eliminating fare collection speeds up routes while ensuring residents have full access to BRT improvements,” Wu tweeted. “Electrification is a must for resiliency AND regional rail.”

Wu doubled down in an interview on B87FM’s “Notorious in the Morning” show later Tuesday morning. In response to a question about why transportation should be free, she stated that increasing accessibility to public transportation through free and discounted fares improves transportation’s frequency and reliability.


She touted her work on launching Boston’s fare-free bus program for three routes.

“Our data shows more people have ridden on these [fare-free buses],” Wu said on the show’s “Urban Conversation” segment. “They are running better, they don’t have to wait in lines in the cold, the buses are running more smoothly with people riding them.”

Wu said city and transit officials shouldn’t focus on only improving reliability of public transit. Doing so would exacerbate the gentrification of low-income communities, she said, only allowing “people who can afford it to use this infrastructure.”

“The ideal short-term situation is free buses because that makes the buses run faster,” Wu said.

In a statement to the Globe, Department of Transportation spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard said: “The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to fully electrifying our public transportation fleet and is open to reduced and fare-free transit options. We look forward to continued partnership with the City of Boston to make our public transportation system more safe, reliable, accessible and equitable.”

Wu said electrifying trains and buses also improves transit reliability as they can help to “fit more people and run faster.”

Wu also acknowledged recent criticism over the T’s reliability and has “never felt so discouraged” as “the T has been making it hard, even if you want to ride and believe in transportation.”


She said she’s glad that the Healey administration committed to its promise of hiring a new general manager for the MBTA, former LIRR president Phillip Eng, whose background gives Wu hope about the future of Boston’s public transit.

In the Tuesday interview, Wu also responded to a recent “We ❤️ NYC” campaign advertisement that took a swipe at Boston, stating, “We get more done by 8 a.m. than Boston does in a day.”

“I don’t know what they’re talking about getting done,” Wu said. “If there’s anything that Bostonians can do easily, it’s not giving a care what New York does.”

Ashley Soebroto can be reached at Follow her @ashsoebroto.