Implementation and outcomes of fare-free transit systems


Joel Volinski

Document Type


Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, policy - equity, policy - fares, policy - social exclusion, economics - subsidy


Case studies, Free fares, Grant aid, Interviewing, Literature reviews, Public transit, Ridership, Social benefits, Social impacts, Surveys, Transit operators, Transportation policy, United States


The purpose of this synthesis was to document the past and current experiences of public transit agencies that have planned, implemented, and operated fare-free transit systems. The report concentrates on public transit agencies that are either direct recipients or sub-recipients of federal transit grants and provide fare-free service to everyone in their service area on every mode they provide. The report will be of interest to transit managers and staffs, small urban and rural areas, university, and resort communities, as well as stakeholders and policy makers at all levels who would be interested in knowing the social benefits and macro impacts of providing affordable mobility through fare-free public transit. A review of the relevant literature was conducted for this effort. Reports provide statistics on changes in levels of ridership associated with fare-free service. White papers or agency reports identified by the topic panel or discovered through interviews with fare-free transit managers were also reviewed. Through topic panel input, Internet searches, listserv communications, and APTA and TRB sources, the first comprehensive listing of public transit agencies that provide fare-free service in the United States was identified. A selected survey of these identified public transit agencies yielded an 82% response rate (32/39). The report offers a look at policy and administrative issues through survey responses. Five case studies, achieved through interviews, represent the three types of communities that were found to be most likely to adopt a fare-free policy: rural and small urban, university dominated, and resort communities.


Permission to publish the abstract and link to the report has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.