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Questions of Fairness, Financial Viability of Free Transit Rides

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA, spoke to States Newsroom about public transit systems that waived fares to woo back riders after the COVID-19 pandemic. In some locales, officials are debating whether the free rides are financially sustainable. Most cities that have recovered their pre-pandemic ridership have large populations that depend on public transit because they don’t have access to cars, Taylor said. But reduced or free rides make less sense in cities with more affluent commuters, such as San Francisco. “It’s difficult to make an equity case for it,” Taylor said. “There is an excellent argument to be made for free fares in the right situation. But to do it universally would cost enormous amounts of money and actually convey benefits to high-income people who don’t need it.”


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