Fare-free transit has been implemented in a number of settings in Washington and beyond. Some examples of communities that have free transit systems include Microsoft and Island County.
A 1994 study by WSDOT examined the potential and problems associated with fare-free transit policy and found that fare-free policy does make a difference and that smaller communities in particular benefit from policies promoting free transit. The study found a strong link between free fares and increased ridership:
The cost of adopting fare-free policy is minimal. Half of the transit systems in Washington return less than a 10 percent fare box recovery rate. Our analysis demonstrates that once the costs of collecting fares are deducted (usually from 2-7% of operating costs), little, if any, net revenue is generated. The gains in ridership from fare-free policy would increase at least 25-50%. New fare-free systems have found ridership to be three to four times that predicted under a fare policy.
Much success of fare-free transit systems rests on institutional commitment and a well-defined strategy that accounts for the increase crowding on vehicles. The study stated that “fare-free policy has the potential to either improve or detract from the quality of transit operating service, depending on both the geographic context (size of the community) and institutional context (degree of commitment to the fare-free policy from management and the rest of the agency).” The success of fare-free transit relies on clear objectives, organizational commitment, communication with the community, education programs and increased security systems to handle problem riders and the substantial increase in ridership.