This week, Kansas City made history by becoming the first major city in the United States to have fare-free public transportation.
The move comes after the city council unanimously voted to endorse the “Zero Fare Transit” proposal to make all city bus routes fare-free, directing the city manager to develop and implement the plan. They city’s streetcar has been free since it first opened.
The free bus service, which is expected to cost the city roughly $8 million, does away with the previous ticket costs of $1.50 per ticket, or $50 for a monthly pass, reports WDAF.
Local officials have been framing the move not as “wasteful expenditures” or a “burden on taxpayers,” but as a good investment into the city.
City Councilman Eric Bunch framed the plan as a means to offer a strong helping hand to the city’s low-income residents, who rely on public transit to commute to work. According to KSHB, Bunch said:
“When we’re talking about improving people’s lives who are our most vulnerable citizens, I don’t think there’s any question that we need to find that money.
That’s not a ton of money and it’s money that we as a city, if we want to prioritize public transportation, it’s something that we can find.”
Say goodbye to bus fares in Kansas City!
Public transit is a public good. This win for fare-free transit in KC proves that when people organize and stand together, we can ensure our public dollars go towards the *most* public good. https://t.co/pIKOzy62Pw
— Jobs to Move America (@JobsMoveAmerica) December 6, 2019
New Mayor Quinton Lucas has also strongly supported the plan, which is being greeted warmly by city residents. Bus rider Loren Miles said:
I think it would make the bus system stronger, not weaker, and would probably bring in more revenue, not less.”
Some have criticized the move as short-sighted and expensive to taxpayers. Local resident Teresa Bradshaw questioned the plan, noting:
“If you take it away, then where are our taxes going to go? How high are the taxes? It’s got to come from somewhere.”
The editorial board of the Kansas City Star, which backs the new measure, argued that the money can easily be found elsewhere. In an editorial last month, they argued:
“A good first step would be to stop giving away tax revenue to developers. Other efficiencies, including elimination of fare boxes on buses, could help. So could reclaiming sales tax dollars now subsidizing the streetcar.”
Supporters have also argued that the move has myriad benefits, including strengthening the local economy overall and reducing the environmental impact of private transportation. Climate change protesters and livable city advocates across the world have demanded increased investment in mass transportation amid rising awareness of climate change.
Fare-free public transit has become an increasingly popular idea among cash-strapped urban residents in recent years, with cities including Denver and Salt Lake City openly floating the progressive idea in recent city elections.
Meanwhile, in cities across the U.S. such as Portland, Oregon, and New York City, municipalities have been spending their tax dollars installing cameras and hiring more transit police in order to crack down on and criminalize those evading their often-expensive transit fare.