Olympia becomes largest city in Pacific Northwest to offer free public transit

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Olympia, Wash., on Jan. 1 became the largest city in the Pacific Northwest to offer free public transit when the city eliminated fares for its Intercity Transit system, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).

After weighing the price tag to install electronic fare-card readers on buses, the agency eventually determined it could increase ridership more by doing away with fares, according to OPB.

Fare collection accounted for less than 2 percent of the agency’s net operating revenue, and it predicts increased ridership will likely qualify it for further grant money and federal funds, according to OPB.

“It costs a lot of money to collect money, which is surprising to a lot of people,” Intercity Transit General Manager Ann Freeman-Manzanares told OPB Thursday.

“Looking at the broad list of things the community wanted us to address — in terms of access, equity, speed, reliability, addressing the environment, making sure that we’re as efficient as possible — the combination of those things actually led us to zero-fare,” she added.

The agency had previously charged $1.25 for adults traveling local routes in Thurston County and $3 for express routes to Tacoma and Lakewood. The agency board unanimously approved the fare elimination on a five-year demonstration basis early in December, according to OPB.

The agency successfully asked voters in 2018 to raise the local sales tax to fund better bus service. Passengers now essentially pre-pay their bus fare while shopping, the agency says.

Freeman-Manzanares told the outlet that some had raised concerns that passengers would linger on buses without getting off if no fare was charged, but expressed confidence that existing rules would prevent that.

“We have rider rules and one of those is that you can ride a full route and then you need to get off,” Freeman-Manzanaes said. “Really, you need to have a destination when you get on the bus.”

Tags Free bus fare Transportation Washington
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