Lawmakers in Kansas City, Missouri took a "visionary step" on Thursday by unanimously voting to make public transportation in the city free of charge, setting the stage for it to be the first major U.S. city to have free public transit.
The Kansas City Council voted to direct the city manager to set aside $8 million to eliminate the $1.50 per ride fare that currently applies to the city's bus system.
Some frequent riders could save about $1,000 per year under the new plan, according to KCUR, the city's public radio station.
"It'd help me out a lot," college student Michael Mumford, who rides the city's buses at least once per day, told the station. "Put some change in my pocket…buy some books for class."
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority also expressed approval, with CEO Robbie Makinen telling KCUR that residents will be able to put the money they save on transportation toward other necessities, boosting the economy.
The city still needs to work out details of the proposal, including how it will be funded and where that money will come from, according to local news station KSHB.
Supporters of the measure on social media pointed out that free public transit could have positive impacts on economic inequality, the city's efforts to fight the climate crisis, and mass incarceration—as other cities, like New York, are cracking down on public transit fare evasion.
Given the ubiquity of fare-evasion arrests, this is part of what ending mass incarceration looks like:
Kansas City moves to make mass transit free. https://t.co/tCFDJr4UAY
— David Menschel (@davidminpdx) December 6, 2019
Free public transit has been shown to drastically reduce automobile use and emissions elsewhere, such as in Tallinn, Estonia, wrote economic researcher Curtis Myers.
Universal free transport is a solution
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The main case study is in Estonia, Tallinn where free buses & trams have been given to all citizens since 2013
It’s reduced private car use by a half, reduced 742 tons of CO2 emissions, saving people €750 per year
— Curtis Myers (@curtis_1myers) December 6, 2019
City council member Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the measure, told the local press that he aims to help marginalized communities access the city.
"When we're talking about improving people's lives who are our most vulnerable citizens, I don't think there's any question that we need to find that money," Bunch said.
"I don't want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it's the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city," he told KCUR.
The move did win national recognition, with lawmakers in other large cities praising the initiative and saying they aimed to push for similar programs for their constituents.
Everything’s up to date in Kansas City! Or at least, universal free public transit is. Really visionary step. Whose next @LocalProgress?! @wutrain? (Might take NYC a while, but this really is where we all need to aim) https://t.co/qP5BPPEZza
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) December 6, 2019
Transit should be free in San Francisco as well, there’s no question. The benefits would be tremendous and far outweigh the cost. Let’s do it. https://t.co/x668hLQcYp
— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) December 6, 2019
"Now let's do this everywhere," tweeted Matt Haugen, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America environmental steering committee.