Our Letter on the FARE Act
On May 10, 2021 MassVOTE and 19 other advocacy organizations signed onto the following letter in support of the FARE Act. We sent it to each member of the Joint Committee on Transportation, which is currently considering the bill.
May 10, 2021
Dear Esteemed Member of the Joint Committee on Transportation,
The FARE Act, or “An Act to Establish Free Access to Ride to Elections in Massachusetts,” would make public transit free on election day. Specifically, it would make bus, subway, and trolley service free for all statewide primaries and elections, which totals two days every two years. It would apply to the MBTA, as well as the state’s 15 regional transit authorities. H.3547 was introduced by Representatives Frank Moran and Chynah Tyler, while S.2261 was introduced by Senator Joe Boncore.
We are asking that you support the FARE Act because we believe it essential to promoting equity and accessibility in our electoral system. Voter turnout statistics from the 2020 General Election illustrate what we mean. In predominantly white, wealthy suburban communities like Medfield, Dover, and Sudbury, voter turnout rates climbed to 90% or higher. Yet in more diverse, lower-income urban communities like Springfield, Lawrence, and New Bedford, voter turnout rates were nearly half that, reaching just over 50%. In parts of Boston, such as Roxbury, voter turnout rates were as low as 42%.
Simultaneously, BIPOC, immigrant, and low-income individuals depend on public transit at far higher rates than white individuals. As of 2017, for example, 9% of white households in Massachusetts did not have reliable access to a car. However, that rate rose to 25% for Black households and 27% for Latino ones. Additionally, as of 2016, approximately 70% of those that rode the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) depended on it as their only mode of transit. 50% of those riders, meanwhile, lived below the poverty line.
We believe the FARE Act critical to breaking down barriers and easing access to the ballot box. By making key forms of public transit free for all statewide primaries and elections, the state may take one simple, yet powerful step to eliminate a financial barrier deterring people from voting. Furthermore, the state may help close our voter turnout gap, which is glaringly and frustratingly split across racial, socio-economic, and geographic lines. While we know that this reform will benefit all Massachusetts voters, we especially believe that it will empower our BIPOC, low income, and immigrant voters by easing access to the types of transit they rely on in the predominant communities they reside in. Finally, passing the FARE Act will send a strong message to rest of the country: Massachusetts is dedicated to making voting as accessible and inclusive as possible. This is crucial, given the fact that 43 states have in total introduced more than 250 pieces of legislation to make voting less accessible and inclusive.
While making public transit free on election day would be a first for Massachusetts, it would not be a first nationwide. Dozens of major metropolitan areas, like San Diego, Dallas, Kansas City, provide free public transit on election day. Yet the largest area to do so is Los Angeles County, which is home to about 10 million residents, 5.5 million registered voters, and 88 cities. LA County first offered fare-free bus, subway, and bike services during the 2018 Midterm Election. Leading up to and on election day, LA County placed metro personnel at strategic locations to raise awareness around the free service and answer any questions they received. As a result, LA County subway and bus service rose by more than 5%, while the program cost around $600,000. Due to these minimal costs and increase in ridership, LA County made public transit free for all statewide primaries and elections.
In considering the national precedent for this policy, as well as benefits it will have in empowering BIPOC, low income, and immigrant voters, we hope that you will support the FARE Act. Along these lines, we hope that the FARE Act will soon receive a public hearing, and that the committee will report the legislation out favorably.
Thank you for your consideration. We understand how busy you are in attending to the needs of this committee, and your own district, so your thought means a great deal. Please feel free to reach out to any of us if you have any questions or concerns regarding the FARE Act.