New D.C. Council bill proposes free Metrobus starting next summer
Metrobus rides would be free starting next summer under new legislation introduced by the D.C. Council.
Why it matters: As WMATA tries to draw riders back to the system, council members say the bill would make buses faster and more efficient, and the transit system more equitable for low-income riders.
- One in three D.C. residents commutes via public transit, per the city's budget director, and 68% of bus riders have household incomes below $50,000.
Details: The legislation — announced today by D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 6 council member Charles Allen — restructures Allen's previous bill that would give D.C. residents a $100 monthly subsidy. Mendelson had previously expressed concerns about funding the subsidy.
The new legislation makes all Metrobus rides that start in the District free and adds overnight service to 12 major bus lines. City leaders say they hope to implement the $100 subsidy at a later time, and apply it only to Metrorail.
- The bill would also create a $10 million improvement fund for bus lanes and shelters.
Zoom out: D.C. would join a small number of other cities offering free public transit, including Kansas City — which is providing free buses through 2023 — and Alexandria — which began offering its DASH bus service for free last year, per the Washington Post. D.C.'s legislation would make free bus service permanent.
Between the lines: The legislation is estimated to cost $32 million just to make the bus free. Extending overnight service would cost an additional $8.5 million.
- WMATA has a budget deficit of $185 million, which the agency attributes in part to fare evasion. A Metro spokesperson told the Washington Post they are excited for the legislation to encourage ridership.
What they’re saying: The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington tells Axios that it supports the bill's overnight bus provision, which would benefit service workers who work late shifts.
- “Restaurants are struggling,” RAMW's Ché Ruddell-Tabisola tells Axios. “This has the effect of bringing more guests right into downtown for our bars and restaurants.”
What’s next: The first vote on the legislation is on Dec. 6 and the final vote is expected on Dec. 20.
- The bill is likely to pass because of Mendelson's support and several council members voicing approval.
Editor's note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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