The City of Boston is piloting a new scheme that will offer free public transport and shared-bike passes as part of an experiment into how financial incentives can impact commuting behaviour.

Workers in five Main Street Districts can apply for the pilot, which gives credits of up to US$60 for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) services and a two-month pass for the city’s bike-share scheme, Bluebike.

Applicants will be selected on a first come, first served basis, and while the programme is currently only open to workers whose employers are located in the five targeted neighbourhoods, officials are working to expand the pilot to other Main Street districts.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many essential workers have continued to utilise public transportation because they have been unable to work from home,” said Boston’s Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who was sworn in last week after Marty Walsh departed to become the US Labour Secretary.

“I’m proud to launch this pilot programme with the MBTA and Bluebikes to learn more about the impacts on commuter patterns when the cost of public transit is covered. And as more workers begin to return to workplaces, making transit more accessible is critical to our equitable recovery from the pandemic.”


The programme, which will be managed by the City of Boston Transportation Department in partnership with the MBTA, Boston Main Street organisations, and the American Cities Climate Challenge, is structured to measure how financial incentives for public transit impact commuting behaviour, and will be phased in over the next two months.

Results will be used to inform the city’s long-term transportation demand management strategy.

Of the 1,000 qualified workers, some individuals will be randomly selected to get an MBTA pass with the full US$60 credit loaded, and the remainder will receive smaller stipends over time, which will end up totalling US$60.

Bluebike pass-holders will be able to take unlimited trips during the two-month period, but trips must be completed within 45 minutes to avoid usage charges.

Last summer, Boston introduced free 90-day Bluebike passes for employees working in retail and grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants.

With an expected increase in post-COVID-19 traffic, the city wants to help alleviate small business districts of congestion and free up kerb space for local neighbourhood customers. It also seeks to reduce vehicular traffic and environmental impact.

Eligible employees can sign up through the city’s website or by text.

Image: Mike K (Flickr)

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