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Cambridge City Council Takes Next Step in Pilot Program to Make MBTA Bus Route 1 Fare-Free

The 1 Bus reaches its final stop outside Widener Gate. The Cambridge City Council passed a policy order asking City Manager Yi-An Huang '05 to work towards implementing a fare-free Route 1 bus program.
The 1 Bus reaches its final stop outside Widener Gate. The Cambridge City Council passed a policy order asking City Manager Yi-An Huang '05 to work towards implementing a fare-free Route 1 bus program. By Lucy H. Vuong
By Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council unanimously passed a policy order on Monday asking City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 to work with the MBTA and the City of Boston to implement a fare-free Route 1 bus program.

The Council discussed the feasibility of a fare-free bus Route 1 pilot program during its weekly meeting on Monday. The effort comes ahead of a planned Red Line shutdown in July, which will leave most Cambridge residents with restricted access to the T system.

The discussion follows the rollout of similar fare-free programs in other Massachusetts cities, including the Worcester and Merrimack Valley Regional Transportation Authorities. The City of Boston also made the 23, 28, and 29 buses fare-free through at least March 2026.

“This is another attempt to see, okay, is this possible?’” Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui said in an interview on Tuesday. “Especially in light of Mayor Wu working with the MBTA to continue the three routes.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07 recently announced the extension of the existing free-fare bus program — which was originally set to end in February — until March 2026.

Cambridge has explored the feasibility of a free-fare program since at least 2020, including the launch of a Fare-Free Bus Pilot Working Group.

The working group, citing Boston’s pilot programs, concluded that fare-free buses have proven to increase ridership and equity in public transportation.

Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler said during the meeting on Monday that the fare-free bus will make the transportation more efficient as passengers often slow down bus routes with payment issues.

“They also reduce the assaults on bus drivers,” Sobrinho-Wheeler added, noting that fares are one of the leading causes of conflicts.

According to Siddiqui, the City came close to program implementation last term but faced difficulties with “a gap in communication,” citing the MBTA leadership change and the City Council election.

“There’s a renewed opportunity with the Red Line shutdown in July in Cambridge to ask the T to make the number one bus fare-free,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said during the meeting.

The MBTA has scheduled to shut down the Red Line from Alewife to Kendall/MIT for the majority of July.

Councilor Burhan Azeem said that the pilot program can likely be financed with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. During the previous term, the City had planned to set aside two million dollars from ARPA funding for the initiative.

The City of Boston has also previously expressed interest in working with the City of Cambridge to launch a fare-free program for Route 1, which has more than half of its stops in Boston.

“If we don’t have alternatives for people to take public transit, we’re gonna see worse traffic, we’re gonna see more traffic accidents, we’re gonna see more pollution,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said.

“We need to be encouraging people to take public transit with the Red Line shut down.”

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at Follow her on X @ayumi_nagatomi.

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