Washington D.C.'s free bus bill becomes law as zero-fare transit systems take off

Key Points
  • Washington, D.C., has enacted a zero-fare bus bill into law.
  • The policy eliminates the $2 fare for all the city's buses starting this summer.
  • It is the largest city to institute a fare-free transit system and part of a growing movement nationwide.
A bus is seen in Washington, DC, on December 12, 2022. - The Washington government voted to institute free bus rides for all starting in the summer of 2023.
Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

Washington, D.C., has enacted a zero-fare bus bill into law, according to the D.C. Council.

Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to officially approve the bill, which eliminates the $2 fare for all city buses, adds a dozen 24-hour bus lines starting in July and calls for a $10 million investment into other service improvements to the bus lines.

But the council enacted the proposal without the mayor's signature, making Washington the largest U.S. city to codify a fare-free transit system as the movement takes off nationwide. Kansas City, Missouri, previously the largest city with such a law, made its own transit system zero-fare in 2019, though that city doesn't have a train system.

In December, the D.C. Council unanimously passed the bill, but it had been waiting on a response from the mayor's office before it could officially become law, said Councilmember Charles Allen, who initially proposed the Metro for D.C. bill in 2021.

Earlier this month, Washington's chief financial officer approved the funding for the fare-free bus service, baking in $11 million for fiscal year 2023, $43 million for fiscal year 2024 and increasingly more for each fiscal year afterward.

The council was made aware of the mayor's decision not to sign the legislation last week, according to Allen, and it was enacted without her signature on Thursday. The council officially announced the mayor's decision on Monday.

It's now debating whether to add an amendment that would subsidize rail travel for city residents, but the current version of the bill will go into effect in the meantime, Allen said.

"It's full steam ahead now," he said, adding that the mayor's resistance to sign the bill is largely symbolic.

"There's no practical difference at all," Allen said. "Maybe you might think of it as reflecting a different level of enthusiasm."

Bowser had previously taken issue with the fact that Maryland and Virginia weren't helping to fund the bill despite the benefit to their residents, NBC Washington reported. The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.