Wu requests $8 million in federal ARPA funds for fare-free bus expansion – wgbh.org

City Hall Plaza, Boston
City Hall Plaza, Boston

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A day after being sworn in, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu asked the City Council Wednesday to approve a last-minute funding request to spend $8 million in federal pandemic relief funds to expand Boston’s fare-free bus pilot. The request failed — for now — on a procedural objection, pushing the matter to the council’s COVID-19 recovery committee.

The funding request, an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to move towards free public transit, would eliminate fares on the 23, 28 and 29 bus routes for two years. All three run through the city center, serving riders who need to move to and from Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

The city’s current fare-free pilot along the 28 route is set to expire at the end of the year. The pilot was financed through funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which will bring more than $500 million to Boston over the next several years.

Since Wu’s request was submitted as a late-file matter, it needed the council’s unanimous approval to advance without a hearing. Wu’s former mayoral rival, Dorchester-Mattapan Councilor Andrea Campbell, objected to suspending the rules for its passage.

“I want to make it crystal clear, I’m for this. I think it’s a great idea,” said Campbell when asked by At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty to reconsider her objection to suspending the council rules and passing Wu’s request.

Campbell, whose term expires in January, pointed to the Boston’s overpayment for its current single pilot of the 28 bus line from Mattapan to Roxbury and said there should be a hearing with an opportunity for public comment.

Even though she will not sit among the new crop of councilors, Campbell said the precedent of the City Council evaluating fiscal asks from the mayor should be followed.

The council generally suspends rules for smaller grants, which, presumably, need less scrutiny.

“Going forward for larger expenditures, especially for the COVID dollars — because there are questions about how it’s going to be spent — the public should be allowed to weigh in on those precious dollars,” Campbell told GBH News.

Allston Councilor Liz Breadon rose to draw attention to the lack of Sunday service along the 65 bus line, which runs from Brighton to Kenmore.

“It passes a huge number of public housing … and senior housing along the Patricia White apartments,” Breadon said. “These residents are folks with disabilities, elders, retired, low-income residents. They rely on public transit.”

“It’s huge inequity there,” Breadon continued, “and I really hope we can have a really critical and robust conversation with the MBTA. It’s long past time they deliver a proper, good service for our residents.”

Several councilors, including Lydia Edwards, Ed Flynn and Kenzie Bok rose in support of the immediate passage of Wu’s request, pointing to Wu’s overwhelming election victory and the urgent need to transport Boston’s residents.

Councilor Flaherty, who sought to pass Wu’s late-file request and chairs the council’s COVID Recovery committee, did not respond to a request for comment.