Partnership with CAAS will deliver 500 unlimited MBTA passes to residents not served by other transit benefit programs
Pilot program is the latest of several transit equity initiatives Somerville has undertaken this year, fully funding more than 4,000 passes for residents, students, families, and workers
SOMERVILLE – The City of Somerville, in partnership with the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), is launching a pilot program to distribute 500 fully subsidized MBTA passes to low-income households in Somerville. This program is the latest of several initiatives the City has undertaken recently to deliver economic relief to residents and expand access to sustainable and equitable transportation options. Funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, this pilot is among the first means-tested transit pass programs in Massachusetts.
Through Somerville’s program, free 12-month MBTA transit passes will be distributed to qualifying individuals on a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone who either is currently enrolled in a public benefits program (such as SNAP or MassHealth) or earns up to twice the federal poverty level and does not currently qualify for an existing free or reduced-fare pass is eligible to apply.
Applications are now open at caasomerville.org/transit-program. To learn more by phone, call CAAS at 617-599-4185.
Somerville’s means-tested program fills a critical gap for low-income residents who don’t qualify for other transit benefit programs. Young people and older adults, for example, may be eligible for the MBTA Youth Pass Program or the Senior Charlie Card Program, while in Massachusetts, there are very few reduced-fare options for people between the ages of 26 and 65.
“In Massachusetts, public transportation has become cost-prohibitive for too many residents, so Somerville is stepping up to the plate,” said Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. “No one should be forced to choose between buying a T pass or paying for groceries, and low-income riders have little recourse. When we cover the cost of fares, we remove a barrier to ridership and deliver economic relief to those in our community who need it most. I’m grateful to CAAS for their partnership on this initiative, and I hope we can inspire similar programs to take shape across the region.”
Research shows that means-tested fare programs improve affordability and mobility for low-income residents, providing more equitable access to health care and social services in particular. Subsidizing passes also preserves choice and flexibility for riders, ensuring they can use all subway lines and bus routes to get where they need (and want) to go.
“We see this program as a natural extension of our mission to help local families and individuals achieve financial security,” said David Gibbs, Executive Director of CAAS. “Reliable and affordable public transportation is a basic necessity in today’s economy, and this program will help to ensure that working people have meaningful opportunities for a better future.”
The average household in Somerville spends 12% of their income on transportation-related costs, which can be a substantial burden for houses with constrained budgets. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10.4% of the city’s population lives in poverty, and 50.8% of Somerville Public Schools students are considered low-income.
In the past year, the City has undertaken a number of new and expanded initiatives to subsidize public transit, working with the MBTA, the Somerville Public Schools, and community partners to fully fund more than 4,000 passes for low- and moderate-income Somerville residents, students, families, and workers. In September, the Somerville Public Schools distributed 2,000 M7 Transit Passes to all students in grades 7 through 12, up from 1,400 passes the previous year. Through new programs, the City also funded 1,200 MBTA passes for low-income parents and guardians of Somerville Public Schools students using ARPA funds and distributed more than 640 passes to teachers and staff.
For more information on transit benefits programs in Somerville, go to somervillema.gov/transitbenefits.