Gas prices are rising, making car ownership unaffordable for many families. As a result, people in the US increasingly rely on public transportation for their daily commutes to work, school, and various destinations. Fortunately, several cities have recognized this need and introduced free or affordable public transit programs, including complimentary bus and metro passes. Keep reading to see if your city provides such programs and how to apply.
Next, we will answer the following questions:
- Which major US cities offer free public transportation?
- Do smaller cities offer free transit options?
- How can one obtain a free bus pass?
- What are the basic steps to use public transit?
- What other organizations offer assistance in obtaining free bus passes?
- Are specific programs catering to students, senior citizens, or other groups?
Which major US cities offer free public transportation?
Several major US cities have implemented initiatives to provide free public transit, free bus passes, or reduced fares. Here’s a list of some cities that currently offer such services:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico: Active through September 30, 2023, ABQ RIDE, ART, and Sun Van no longer require passengers to pay. ART and Sun Van services will remain fare-free indefinitely. Contact the City of Albuquerque for more information.
- Alexandria, Virginia: Alexandria offers free access to DASH buses and King Street Trolley cars. Visit the DASH bus website to learn more.
- Baltimore City, Maryland: The Charm City Circulator (CCC) is a free, 24-bus fleet shuttle service that travels four routes in the business district.
- Boston, Massachusetts: Pilot program by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) where residents can ride three bus routes (23, 28, and 29) serving Mattapan, Roxbury, Dorchester, and other areas until February 29, 2024. Contact the MBTA to find out more.
- Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Chapel Hill offers free fixed-route bus service and door-to-door transit for mobility-impaired riders. Contact the Town of Chapel Hill for more information.
- Cleveland, Ohio: The trolley service is fare-free for all passengers.
- Commerce, California: Fare-free bus transit is available in the East LA area of Commerce, including the 600 line to downtown LA.
- Denver, Colorado: Free MetroRide operates during weekday rush hours, offering convenient connections to buses, light rail, and commuter rail.
- Hoboken, New Jersey: The City’s Hop shuttle service offers residents and visitors free transportation on four routes throughout Hoboken.
- Jacksonville, Florida: The JTA Skyway monorail is a complimentary service connecting the Southbank neighborhood to the Northbank.
- Kansas City, Missouri: The KC Streetcar route runs from Union Station to City Market, offering free rides.
- Los Angeles, California: The Low-Income Fare is Easy (LIFE) program provides transportation assistance to low-income individuals in Los Angeles County. Learn more about LA Metro’s reduced fare programs.
- Miami, Florida: Metromover operates seven days a week in downtown Miami, and the Trolley system is free, including the Miami Beach trolley.
- New York City, New York: Planned for 2024, offering free bus rides in all five boroughs. Learn more at MTA online.
- New Jersey: Offers free bus passes for recently unemployed New Jersey residents returning to work who meet specific qualifications.
- Niles, Illinois: The Niles Free Bus takes you to shops and public buildings. It also links to the Blue Line at Jefferson Park for a ride to downtown Chicago.
- Olympia, Washington: Provides zero-fare transit for bus and Dial-A-Lift services until at least Jan. 2028. Visit the Intercity Transit website to learn more.
- Orlando, Florida: LYNX offers free LYMMO park-and-ride bus service in downtown Orlando, operating in designated lanes to avoid traffic.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A two-year pilot program will offer free transit passes to city workers to increase ridership on SEPTA services until 2025.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: The downtown “T Zone” is fare-free, while other areas require additional fare payments.
- Washington, D.C: Starting July 1, 2024, all Washington, D.C. Metrobus rides in the capital will be free.
Do smaller cities offer free transit options?
Free transit options and reduced fare programs may be available in smaller cities and towns. Consider these methods to save on local transportation costs:
- Contact your local transit authority to inquire about free bus passes and reduced fare programs in your area. They can provide information on available options and eligibility criteria.
- Conduct an online search using keywords like “free bus passes near me.” This can yield a list of available transportation options that offer complimentary rides in your community.
- The United Way organization connects individuals with the resources they need. You can easily access assistance by dialing 2-1-1 from your smartphone or visiting their website at 211.org. They can help you find local resources, including transportation assistance programs.
- Utilize Findhelp.org, an online resource that links people with local programs and services. Enter your zip code to discover services available in your community, which may include information on reduced or free bus passes.
- Local churches, religious organizations, and community ministries sometimes offer free or discounted bus passes or transit rides. To explore this option, search online for “churches near me” to find a list of local places of worship you can contact for assistance.
- You could qualify for cheaper or free transportation if you get government help through programs like TANF, SNAP, or SSI. Contact your caseworker or social services agency to inquire about available transportation benefits.
What are the basic steps to use public transit?
Using public transit efficiently involves following these steps:
- Decide where you want to go and use online route planners, mobile apps, or paper schedules provided by transit agencies to find the best route.
- Know the departure times and station locations for buses, trains, or trams. Arrive a few minutes early to ensure you don’t miss your ride.
- Be ready to pay using single-use tickets, passes, or free vouchers if you have one valid for your route.
- Wait at the designated stop or platform. Let passengers exit before you board to keep things smooth.
- Pay attention to your surroundings, listen for announcements, and prepare to exit as your stop approaches. Use the “Stop Requested” signal if needed.
- If you’re changing vehicles (e.g., switching from a bus to a train), understand how transfers work and if you need extra fares or passes.
- Keep yourself safe by staying alert and aware throughout your journey.
Are specific programs catering to students, senior citizens, or other groups?
For seniors and persons with disabilities:
- Los Angeles, California: Seniors can obtain discounts with a TAP card.
- Atlanta, Georgia: If you are 65 and over, you can receive a free Breeze card with access to discounted rides.
- Baltimore, Maryland: Seniors aged 65 and over can apply for the MTA reduced-fare program, offering a 50% discount on regular fares. Discounts are also available for individuals with disabilities and Medicare cardholders.
- Chicago, Illinois: Seniors (65+), disabled veterans, and disabled persons enrolled in the Benefit Access Program can ride free.
- Houston, Texas: Seniors aged 65-69 can receive a reduced bus fare, and disabled veterans or recipients of the Medal of Valor can ride free.
- San Francisco, California: Seniors aged 65 or over with low to moderate income can ride Muni for free. Additionally, adults with qualified disabilities, low-income, or homeless individuals can also ride Muni for free.
- Los Angeles, California: Students at participating K-12 and Community Colleges can ride Metro for free with a GoPass. Contact LA Metro for more information.
- Atlanta, Georgia: Students in K-12 can get discounted passes. College students and faculty at participating colleges can purchase 30-day discounted passes. Contact MARTA for details.
- Chicago, Illinois: Students ages 7 to 20 can ride for $0.75 on school days with a Student Ventra card. College students at participating colleges can ride free with the U-Pass during the school year. Visit CTA online for more information.
- Orange County: Students can access discounted fares, including the College Pass for students with nine or more credit hours per semester at participating colleges and the University Pass for students at specific universities. Click here for more details.
- San Francisco, California: Riding on the Muni system is free for people 18 years and under. Visit the SFMTA website to learn more.