An Argument for Free Mass Transit

In my hometown of New York City, there has been increased attention lately on the issue of fare evasion—when someone seeks to avoid paying the fare required to get on a bus or subway train.

I made a tweet on social media pointing out that an easy way to get rid of fare evasion is to get rid of fares. Tweets aside though, I really think mass transit should be free, and there are some compelling arguments in favor of it.

Chief among them is the environment. If we really want to do all we can to take care of the environment, there needs to be more mass transit, better mass transit, and more incentive to take mass transit. Why? Because driving a car results in significantly more CO2 emissions per trip per mile than mass transit—either bus or rail.[1] This is another way of saying that driving a car is significantly worse for the environment than using public transportation. By making public transit free, especially in a time when driving is getting more expensive due to soaring gas prices, we are adding an incentive for people to ditch vehicles that are bad for an environment that desperately needs to be taken better care of by us as human beings.

Speaking of expensiveness, free public transport would create a means of getting around that even the poorest people in the working class can afford. This is not currently the case, which is a part of why some people are so poor that they can’t afford to get jobs.[2] After all, it costs money to drive to and from a job interview (let alone work), and currently with most public transportation, it costs money (for some, too much money) to take a bus or a train to and from a job interview or work. And then there are many others for whom the money used on a daily basis for public transit means money not spent on other basic necessities, such as food or paying off certain bills. Free public transit eliminates the potential barrier to a job for some, and the difficult choice of having to choose between paying for public transit and paying certain key bills for others.

There is a third argument in favor of public transit that should get highlighted, though: it means that government resources don’t have to be used on addressing fare evasion. There are some cities, such as mine, that are using government resources, such as more police officers in subway stations, in order to try and address fare evasion. However, if there are no fares to evade, then critical police (and government) resources can be directed in other, hopefully more productive, ways than trying to catch someone who didn’t pay $2.75 at a subway turnstile. I wasn’t joking when I said on social media that one easy way to eliminate fare evasion entirely is to eliminate fares entirely.

By this point in my post, you may be thinking the following: “Brendan, this sounds nice, but who’s going to pay for this?” Each person will have a different take, but personally, I think we should start with people who could take mass transit yet drive instead. Currently, mass transit is at least partially paid for on the backs of fares that need to be paid regardless of how wealthy or poor you are. What this means is that someone who is homeless can at least in theory find themselves needing to pay a fare to get on mass transit—something that shouldn’t sit right with anyone. After all, doesn’t that sound like knocking someone when they are down? Which, perhaps, is what having to pay a fare for mass transit in the first place does to so many of us.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-climate-change-cut-carbon-emissions-from-your-commute

[2] I wrote a blog post on this issue: https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2019/11/18/some-people-are-so-poor-they-cant-afford-to-get-jobs/