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Free Public Transit. Whoa.



There is a growing discussion in the public transit community about the benefits of making public transit free. This represents a huge change from even just a few years ago. It is a change that signifies bigger changes ahead, and it raises big questions.


The discussion, like so many things, was fast-forwarded by covid. All of a sudden, transit ridership collapsed to levels never seen before. And even as the economy reopens, it is not clear how many of those riders will come back, and if they will be commuting every day the way they did before.


Even more importantly, it became very obvious that public transit disproportionately serves a long-standing but newly-named category of people: essential workers.


In other words, people that everyone depend on, disproportionately depend on public transit. And since people in essential roles were dying from covid at a higher rate than others, society was forced to look clearly at the fact that these essential roles were disproportionately filled by people from disadvantaged communities.


When you then look at the financial side of things, the argument for big changes really picks up speed. Public transit before covid was roughly 90% dependent on subsidies, with only 10 or 15% of costs being covered by rider payments. Now picture fewer riders, and higher operating costs, and you can see that in the near future payments by riders might only make up 5% or so of the cost of running the system.


At that point, does it make sense to turn anyone away, rather than to simply make trips free and encourage everyone to use public transit?


If you have read any of our other blog entries, especially about diversity and access, you know that the FreeBike approach to mobility is to focus on ensuring that as many people as possible have as much access to life's opportunities as possible. And, you know that more people than ever are turning to ebikes to help them move.


We are extremely encouraged by the growing discussion about making public transit free. We strongly encourage people in the transit planning community and the transit riding community to use this opportunity to think about how best to serve the broader community.


There are many tools available today that were not available when public transit in the US was first designed. The future should be far, far more personal and of higher use to riders than the past was. If you agree and want to talk it over, then please get in touch. Our bet is that free is a win, and that ebikes are a win, and that free ebikes are a huge win. So, let's get some free bikes to people who need them.


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