As MBTA, Transit Agencies Nationwide Consider Service Cuts, Pressley, Markey Re-Introduce Bold Legislation to Fully Fund Fare-Free Public Transit

March 30, 2021
Press Release
Freedom to Move Act Will Help Make Fare-Free Transit a Reality, Improve Safety and Quality of Transportation, and Address Transit Equity Gaps

Bill Text (PDF) | Summary (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) re-introduced 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.

The lawmakers’ bill introduction comes as transit agencies across the country, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), consider cuts to transit service—despite receiving over $1 billion in federal relief over the past year. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Markey joined their colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak expressing concerns regarding the MBTA’s announcement that it would cut services this month.

“Public transportation is an essential public good, but for too long, we have not funded it like one. Far too many in the Massachusetts 7th and across the country lack reliable, safe, and affordable transit service,” Congresswoman Pressley said. “As our nation begins to turn a corner toward our ongoing recovery from this public health and economic crisis, it is critical that we center the connectivity of all communities. The Freedom to Move Act invests heavily in our public transit systems so that states and localities can offer safe, high-quality, and fare-free rides to all to ensure everyone in community can access jobs, food and essential services.”

“Affordability and accessibility must define our public transit systems to ensure that they truly promote equity, economic growth, and community development,” said Senator Markey. “By supporting state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transit, we can provide low-income workers, families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities with improved access to jobs, education, medical care, and other critical services – all while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. I’m proud to reintroduce the Freedom to Move Act with Congresswoman Pressley and I look forward to fighting together for a just transit future.”

“I am so grateful for the leadership of Representative Pressley, Senator Markey and this broad community coalition for keeping up the momentum toward transit justice,” said Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu. “Public transit is a public good—just like schools, parks, and libraries, everyone benefits when we eliminate barriers to access. We must keep fighting to ensure every Boston family and community has fare-free access to safe, reliable and convenient transit. Breaking down barriers for every Bostonian to move freely will contribute to cleaner air, safer streets, faster commutes and a more racially and economically equitable city.”

"Now more than ever, Boston needs a transit system that works for everyone,” said Boston Mayor Kim Janey. “The people who stock our groceries, clean our schools, and staff our hospitals rely on buses and trains to get to work. We count on essential workers to get us through this pandemic, and essential workers count on public transportation. Thank you to our entire congressional delegation for your support in advocating for making public transportation more accessible for more working Bostonians."

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and families were spending more time and money commuting to jobs, education and other critical services than ever before. Data shows that low-income families in particular bear the biggest financial burden--spending nearly 30 percent of their household income on transportation expenses. At the same time, increased traffic congestion is contributing to growing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, exacerbating climate change and contributing to health disparities like asthma and lung cancer in communities already at the margins.

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, seniors and individuals with disabilities—and address many of our nation’s most severe inequities.

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

  • Supporting state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transportation systems. The bill establishes a $5 billion competitive grant program, known as Freedom to Move Grants to offset fare revenues for transit agencies. 
  • Investing in efforts to improve the safety and quality of public transportation service, particularly in low-income and historically underserved communities, including by:  
    • Covering operational costs, including the hiring and training of personnel, fuel costs, and maintenance.
    • Investing in public health emergency response efforts, including personal protective equipment and administrative leave for operational personnel.
    • Improving the safety and accessibility of bus stops, pedestrian and bike shelters.
    • Redesigning bus routes to improve service, modernizing and improving the accessibility of signage; and
    • Modernizing surface infrastructure such as painted bus lanes and signal priority systems to alleviate traffic congestion and improve multi-modal accessibility. 
  • Requiring grantees to utilize funds with a particular focus on addressing transit equity gaps. Grantees would be required to work in partnership with community advocates and stakeholders to report on how resources will be used to improve the reliability of transit service for low-income and historically underserved communities.

The Freedom to Move Act is endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, 350 MASS, A Better Cambridge, Action 4 Equity, Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Bikes Not Bombs, Boston Cyclist Union, Community Labor United, Green Newton, GreenRoots, The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, Inc, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, LivableStreets Alliance, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, MASSPIRG, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, Riders Action Council, Transit Matters, WalkBoston.

“The Sunrise Movement knows that investments in fare-free and quality transit are investments in young people, working people, people of color, and a stride towards equity,” said Ellen Sciales, Press Secretary of the Sunrise Movement. “We are proud to stand with Senator Markey and Congresswoman Pressley in their reintroduction of the Freedom to Move Act, as it create jobs in the national interest, strengthens our communities, and is a clear and consequential step towards our vision of a Green New Deal.”

"As a grassroots organization focused on public health, MFFC sees the extreme value of the Freedom to Move Act and how it can greatly improve the wellbeing of residents who live in low income areas,” said Shavel'le Olivier, Executive Director, Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. “With this act in place, residents would be able to focus on their other basic needs to live such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. They would not need to worry about adding transportation to already growing lists of expenses that sometimes takes up 1/3 or more of a weekly paycheck,  paying a fare to get to their doctors appointment or grocery store, as well as safely getting to a comfortable bus stop."

"Public transit is oftentimes the lifeline for many of our residents, especially those who live in Environmental Justice communities,” said María Belén Power, Associate Executive Director, GreenRoots, Inc. “Many of our folks, the essential workers, have put their lives on the line during this pandemic, risking their lives and their families' by continuing to go to work and keep the economy afloat. We have a moral obligation to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. We need robust investment into our public transit agencies for operational and capital improvements, so every single rider has access to reliable, affordable and safe public transit service. We applaud Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Markey for being leaders in the fight for transit justice!”

“Even as COVID-19 has reshaped our daily lives, bus and train service remains essential to the riders who make hundreds of thousands of trips a day, especially to the frontline workers who have kept our communities running during the pandemic,” said Public Transit Public Good. “This Act will ensure that we directly address the needs of our communities. It will strengthen our public transit system by investing in it, and making it safe, affordable and accessible. We thank Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Markey for taking this historic and bold step toward keeping our communities moving.”

Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Markey originally introduced the Freedom to Move Act in June 2020. In July 2020, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which included a fare-free transit pilot program modeled on the lawmakers’ Freedom to Move Act.

Following the bill’s initial introduction, the lawmakers published an op-ed in MassLive in which they discussed the bill and the need to fund public transportation as a public good.

In October 2019, Rep. Pressley founded the Future of Transportation Caucus, a Congressional caucus focused on centering equity, access, and sustainability in our transportation systems.

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