NRTA Considering Going "Fare-Free" To Ride Wave Buses

Jason Graziadei •

Kick Off Event 050
A Nantucket Regional Transit Authority "Wave" bus in front of the Whaling Museum.

The Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) is considering a "fare-free" model that would allow all riders to travel aboard its "Wave" buses at no charge.

The proposal will be aired publicly Monday night at the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission (NP&EDC) meeting.

Citing research from the Transit Cooperative Research Program, NRTA administrator Gary Roberts' presentation to the commission states that free fares could increase ridership, improve on-time performance, and decrease conflicts between riders and operators. Moving to a free fare model also aligns with the NP&EDC's goals for accessibility and affordability.

The NRTA's presentation will propose that moving to a fare-free model could be paid for by the town finally implementing a paid parking system, a concept that has been discussed for years but has never materialized.

The NRTA's current fares range from $2 to $3 per ride, depending upon the route, with seniors able to ride for half-price, and children under 6 allowed to ride for free.  The NRTA Wave buses currently generate $550,000 annually in fare revenues. The town's 2018 estimate for paid parking on Nantucket is roughly $900,000.

Roberts is expected to point to other examples of fare-free public transit systems in Massachusetts, including the Worcester Regional Transit Authority, the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District (SRPEDD), and the Merrimack Valley Transit Authority.

The NRTA's ridership has started to recover from the lows of the pandemic but has still not returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to the latest figures Roberts will present to the NP&EDC Monday night.

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The NRTA began operating in 1995 and is managed by the administrator and an advisory board. Year-round service began in the spring of 2018.

The transit authority currently owns 19 fixed-route and four demand-response vehicles. The NRTA contracts with a private company, VTS of MA, Inc. to operate its buses and hire its drivers.

The NRTA is funded through a combination of state, local, and federal sources, along with its fare revenue and passes. 

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