Fare-Free Bus + Overnight Bus Could Happen by July, $100 Monthly DC Resident Subsidy in 2024
Today, in a historic final vote, the DC Council unanimously passed Councilmember Charles Allen’s Metro For DC bill, paving the way for free buses operating in the District as early as July 2023 and a $100 monthly balance on a registered SmarTrip card for DC residents beginning in 2024.
“Today’s vote on this transformational bill makes the District a national leader in the future of public transit,” said Councilmember Allen. “There doesn’t have to be a trade-off between affordability and service. This bill balances making transit a public good with ensuring world-class service continues to return to our metro system. It has the support and excitement of District residents, District businesses, and the union representing transit workers. WMATA has hailed it as a ‘big, bold concept.’ People will be able to start boarding buses fare free as soon as next summer. It’s going to make a major difference in people’s lives almost immediately and reinvest those tax dollars right back in the monthly budget for families who depend on the bus.”
Below are the four main parts of the bill, ordered on priority for funding as it becomes available:
- The bill makes all WMATA buses operating in the District free to riders beginning next summer.
- In a major win for DC’s nightlife and service sector, the bill funds overnight service for 12 major bus lines.
- As originally proposed by Councilmember Allen, the bill establishes a $10 million bus service improvement fund dedicated to annual investments in bus lanes, shelters, and other improvements to make bus service itself faster, more reliable, and more enjoyable.
- As originally proposed by Councilmember Allen, the bill provides a $100 monthly subsidy for all DC residents to use on Metrorail, buses outside of DC, or anywhere else SmarTrip is accepted.
- Notably, the estimated cost to provide this subsidy dropped by $36-38 million based on making buses fare free for riders.
At the December 6 legislative meeting, the Council also passed unanimously emergency legislation to set aside growth in local revenue that was not included in the District’s most recent budget to pay for the first three items listed above, if / when there is sufficient funding.
The Council’s Budget Office did an analysis of the bill, as introduced by Councilmember Allen, which included the following findings:
- 84% of bus riders in D.C. are residents, compared with 44% of rail riders who board in D.C.
- 60% of D.C. residents who ride the bus are Black while 60% of D.C. residents who take the rail are white
- DC residents who ride the bus are 60% more likely to be Latino than D.C. residents who take the rail
- 68% of D.C. residents who take the bus have household incomes below $50,000, and 51% of D.C. residents who take the rail have household incomes above $75,000
- C. residents who ride the bus are half as likely to have a workplace transit subsidy as residents who take the rail
- The highest income transit riders living in D.C. are 5x as likely to have a workplace transit subsidy as the lowest income riders
- C. residents who ride the bus are half as likely to work for the federal government as D.C. residents who take the rail
- Over the past two decades, 7% of revenues that WMATA used for operations came from bus fares
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