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Cambridge City Council Considers Pilot Program For Free MBTA Bus Route

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) -- Cambridge is considering becoming the next city to offer fare-free bus service, joining Lawrence in an effort to increase ridership. On Monday night, the Cambridge City Council will decide whether to research the details of a pilot program that would make one MBTA bus line free.

But many questions remain. Biggest of all, the costs.

"It's sort of the green new deal idea at the local level. Right now, traffic is the worst it's ever been," said Cambridge City Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler. Since public transportation gets cars off the streets, Cambridge is considering whether to encourage bus ridership by making one of the routes free.

Sobrinho-Wheeler is a sponsor of a policy order. "All that contributes to climate change emissions and at the same time, lower-income people disproportionately depend on public transit and buses to get to work, doctor's appointments and to live their lives," he said.

If the Council gives the thumbs up, the city will study how to create and pay for a pilot program. It would focus on one busy bus route, like the #1 that travels from Harvard Square to Dudley Station.

"This is a completely possible idea. We just need the political will for it. So this is a step in that direction," Sobrinho-Wheeler said.

An MBTA bus in Cambridge (WBZ-TV)

Several months ago, Lawrence made three bus routes free. The city is paying a quarter-million dollars for two years of service.

The cost for Cambridge would be part of their research. Yes, city taxpayers would foot the bill. "This is changing the equation. Let's subsidize things that we know are good for the environment, that are good for equity," said Sobrinho-Wheeler.

But not everyone likes that.

"I think it's a bad tradeoff. It would bring more commuters into the city," one man in Central Square told WBZ-TV.

And more riders could mean the need for more buses, more drivers, more costs.

Another complication, most of the bus routes through Cambridge also go into other communities like Boston. So to pull off the free fares, other cities would have to agree and contribute to the costs.

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