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April 24, 2023

Rep. Pressley and Sen. Markey Announce Fare-Free Transit Legislation, Freedom to Move Act

Bill would support states and localities in enacting fare-free rides, strengthening transportation safety and quality, and closing the transit equity gap

Bill Text (PDF)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), announced the reintroduction of the Freedom to Move Act, bold legislation to support state and local efforts to establish public transportation as a public good through fare-free services.

“Public transportation is meant to provide folks with the mobility and freedom to access critical services, but as the past few years have shown us, far too many people in the Massachusetts 7th and across the country lack the safe, reliable, and affordable transit service that they deserve,” said Rep. Pressley. “We have made real strides in making the case for public transit as a public good but our work is far from over. At every level of government we must finally make the robust investments necessary to restore riders’ confidence in the T and promote public transit nationwide as the public good that it is. Our bill would build on the success of fare-free pilot programs in the Commonwealth by providing safe, high-quality, and fare-free rides for all, and ensuring that everyone can access jobs, goods, and essential services like education and health care–all while reducing traffic congestion and emissions. I’m grateful to Senator Markey, Mayor Wu, and our transit justice advocates for their partnership.”

“Our country’s public transit must be made accessible and affordable so that everyone can get to work, school, the grocery store, and other critical services in their day-to-day lives,” said Senator Markey. “When we support state and local efforts to embed economic and climate justice into our transit system with fare-free service, we ensure that low-income workers and families, people of color, seniors, and people with disabilities have the freedom to move and fully participate in . I am proud to work with Congresswoman Pressley to fight for a transit system that is safe, reliable, and free – all while addressing climate change.”  

“It is an all hands on deck moment to support public transportation in Massachusetts, and in Boston in particular,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We know that making the system more accessible to all actually improves its performance and reliability. We know that this works because we have been measuring every bit of it in Boston through these three bus routes that have been fare-free for over a year. This legislation is critical to making sure that our entire system is one that is a vehicle and platform to connect people to their dreams as opposed to a barrier. I’m grateful to our federal delegation for this legislation and stepping up once again to ensure we are rejecting false choices.”

A copy of the Freedom to Move Act can be found HERE.

The Freedom to Move Act is cosponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and families spent more time and money commuting to and from their jobs, their schools, and other critical daily services than ever before. Low-income families have faced the biggest financial burden by spending nearly 30 percent of their household income on transportation expenses. Traffic congestion has also worsened greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, exacerbating climate change and contributing to health disparities like asthma and lung cancer in marginalized communities.

Increasing access to free, safe, reliable, and accessible public transit systems will help improve community livability and mobility, increase connectivity to critical services—particularly for low-income workers and families, people of color, students, seniors, and people with disabilities—and address many of our nation’s most severe inequities.

The Freedom to Move Act would support state and local efforts to promote public transportation as a public good for all by:

  • Establishing a $5 billion competitive grant program per year to support state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transportation systems;
  • Investing in efforts to improve the safety and quality of public transportation services, particularly in low-income and historically underserved communities; and
  • Ensuring grantees use funds to address and close equity gaps in current transit systems.

The Freedom to Move Act is endorsed by 350 Mass, A Better City, Action 4 Equity, Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Bikes Not Bombs, Boston Cyclist Union, Community Labor United, GreenRoots, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, LiveableStreets Alliance, MeVa—Merrimack Valley Transit, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, Transit Matters, Transportation for Massachusetts, Transport Workers Union, and WalkMassachusetts.

“Transit moves America – it brings children to school, elders to health care and millions of workers to their jobs every day. The Freedom to Move Act is a critical step toward greater investment in our public transit systems. We are grateful for Senator Markey and Congresswoman Pressley’s commitment to making Public Transit free, safe, reliable and accessible across the Commonwealth and across the County,” said Stacy Thompson, Executive Director of LivableStreets Alliance.

“In order to move our society in a sustainable and equitable way, we need to reduce the barriers to public transportation and improve multi-modal options. This bill provides a key element to support those who do not have the ability or privilege of private car ownership, including folks with disabilities, seniors, and those too young to have licenses. And this bill helps us tackle the existential crises of greenhouse gas emissions and congestion on our roads, which are only worsening with every daily commute. Along with the other tools in our toolkit of walking, biking, and active mobility, we know we need to do all we can to encourage transit ridership in order to keep moving forward,” said Galen Mook, Executive Director at Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition.

“The Freedom to Move Act is so aptly named, as robust regional transit authorities literally give freedom to our communities—freedom to access jobs, education, medical appointments and all of life’s opportunities. Thanks to the strong support of Senator Markey and our entire delegation, MeVa has been able to use federal COVID relief funds to go fare free, double frequencies for all Lawrence-based service, and optimize our bus routes. As a result, our ridership has more than doubled, while complaints are down by a third. Passage of the Freedom to Move Act will allow us to sustainably maintain these initiatives and implement new improvements and innovations to best serve our riders,” said Noah Berger, Administrator of MeVa—Merrimack Valley Transit.

“A strong public transit system is a cornerstone of economic and environmental justice. The communities who rely on transit are often the same communities overburdened by transportation pollution,” said Veena Dharmaraj, Director of Transportation at Sierra Club Massachusetts. “The Freedom to Move Act will bring critical investments needed to expand access to safe, reliable, and fare-free transit and the Sierra Club is proud to support it.”

“Transit is a necessary public service, similar to firefighting and trash collection. Everyone deserves access to safe and efficient public transportation that supports good jobs in their communities. It’s past time that our cities were given the opportunity to try a modern model that funds and grows these services in ways that support workers and riders. The Freedom to Move Act does just that and the TWU is proud to endorse this important bill,” said Willie Brown, America Director of Transit, Utilities, Universities, and Services of Transport Workers Union.

Rep. Pressley and Sen. Markey originally introduced the Freedom to Move Act in June 2020. Following the bill’s introduction, Senator Markey, Congresswoman Pressley, and then-Councilor Michelle Wu published an op-ed that discussed the bill and the need to fund public transportation as a public good. In July 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act that included a fare-free pilot program modeled after the two lawmakers Freedom to Move Act. In March 2021, Senator Markey and Congresswoman Pressley reintroduced the Freedom to Move Act.

In August 2021, Rep. Pressley and Senator Markey called on the MBTA to make the entire T fare-free for the duration of the Orange Line’s shutdown.