Fare-Free Route 1 Bus Proposal Unlikely Until Fiscal Year 2026, City Official Says


A proposal to make the Route 1 bus fare free championed by Cambridge city councilors is likely off the table until fiscal year 2026, a city official said in a Wednesday memo.

The Cambridge City Council passed a policy order last month asking City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 to work with Boston and the MBTA to pursue a fare-free 1 bus program. But the memo, by Assistant City Manager Iram Farooq, said that the MBTA did not have the money to fund the program.

“The MBTA has been supportive of fare-free bus route programs but expects challenging financial conditions with its upcoming annual budgets,” she wrote. “Thus, implementing fare-free bus routes will be feasible only if cities will cover the foregone fare revenue.”

The impossibility of MBTA financial support leaves Cambridge and Boston to foot the bill themselves — something Farooq said was not feasible for the upcoming fiscal year.


“Both the cities of Cambridge and Boston are well into the development of the fiscal year 2024-25 budget,” Farooq wrote. “It would be challenging to identify funding for a fare-free program for the upcoming fiscal year.”

Farooq recommended “reconsidering this proposal during the development of fiscal year 2026 budget.”

The total cost of the proposal would be about $2-3 million, she wrote, of which Cambridge’s share could be between $1 and $1.3 million.

The push for making the 1 bus free comes before a planned two week shutdown in July of the Red Line between Alewife and Kendall, which will send tens of thousands of riders above ground to get to work and beyond.

The T has been mired in a service and infrastructure crisis since June of 2022, leading to a yearlong schedule of subway shutdowns and diversions to allow for trackwork and upgrading.

Estimates from agency officials earlier this year put its operating shortfall for the 2026 fiscal year into the hundreds of millions — and said it would take upwards of $20 billion total to make all the long-needed repairs over years to come.

The T is also already in the process of implementing a reduced-fare program for low-income riders, Farooq noted.

Farooq wrote that the department would “​​advocate strongly for fare-free buses as mitigation for the upcoming Red Line shutdowns” in the short term. The 1 bus has significant overlap with the Red Line’s route through Cambridge.

In 2021, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07 made “freeing the T” a key plank of her election platform as a strategy for increasing T ridership.

Though the T itself does not fall under city authority, Wu was able to secure fare-free status for three routes in the city with primarily low-income ridership. In an interview last month, Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui named that success as one nudge forward for Cambridge’s efforts.

The 1 bus, considered a “key bus route” by the T, follows Massachusetts Avenue from Cambridge’s Harvard Square to Nubian Station in Roxbury. The route is also often delayed, with wait times sometimes reaching 30 minutes or longer between buses.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.