Across the nation, cities are starting to embrace the idea of free transportation. In Olympia, Wash., and Richmond, Va., for example, public transit is free for all residents.
Some cities, like Albuquerque, N.M. offer free bus passes for children under 10, adults over 62, college students, Medicare recipients, and military service members and veterans.
Even if your city does not yet offer free bus passes, keep reading for tips on how to get around town at little to no cost.
Free bus passes: Smaller cities and communities
If you live in a small city or town, check with your local transit authority to ask about free bus passes and reduced fare programs. Additionally, you can try these methods for saving money getting around town:
Search for “free bus passes near me”
Search “free bus passes near me” to get a list of available options for free transportation in your community:
Search for your local United Way 211 organization
The United Way connects people with the resources they need. You can dial 2-1-1 from your smartphone to get help or visit 211.org to find local resources.
Search FindHelp.org for reduced and free bus passes in your area
Findhelp.org is an online resource that connects people with the local programs they need. Type in your zip code to find services in your community, which may include reduced and free bus passes.
Check with local churches and ministries
Churches, religious organizations, and ministries in your community may offer free bus passes or discounted transit rides. You can search “churches near me” to get a list of local churches you can contact for help.
Call your local welfare/social services organization
If you receive benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may be eligible for free or reduced cost transportation. Contact your caseworker to learn more.
Free bus passes: Major cities
The list of major cities that offer free transportation is ever changing. Here’s a snapshot of cities that offer free public transit, free bus passes, or reduced fares:
Albuquerque, N.M., free bus fares program
The Zero Fares program in Albuquerque allows all city residents to apply for a free 3-year bus pass. If you don’t apply for a pass, you’ll pay $1 for ABQ RIDE or $2 for Sun Van Paratransit, Albuquerque’s public transit options.
The following riders can ride the bus free without applying for the pass:
- Children under 10
- Adults 62 and over
- College students with a valid school ID
- Medicare card holders
- Service members and veterans with military ID
Atlanta, Ga. MARTA free and reduced fares
MARTA, Atlanta’s transit system, allows children with a height of 46 inches (just under 4 feet) to ride for free with a paying adult. There is a two-child limit — additional children require a paid fare.
If you are a senior 65 and over, a rider with physical or mental disabilities, or a Medicare card holder, you can get a free Breeze with access to discounted rides. The card is valid for three years, and each trip costs $1. Regular fares are $2.50 per trip. You can reapply when your card expires.
The University Pass program offers 30-day discounted passes to college students and faculty at participating colleges. Students pay $68.50, and faculty pay $83.80. Students in K-12 are eligible for discounted passes, but each school must enroll with MARTA to provide the savings.
There’s also a reduced fare program for employees when Atlanta businesses sign up. You can get up to 20% off MARTA fares.
Baltimore, Md., Charm City Circulator
In Baltimore, you can ride the Charm City Circulator for free. This fleet of shuttles transports people to locations throughout the city, as well as to paid bus routes.
If you have a disability or you’re 65 and over, you can apply for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) reduced-fare program, which offers half off of regular fares. For a 31-day pass, the discount is even steeper — you’ll pay $23 vs. the $77 standard fare.
If you or someone you know is dealing with an opioid addiction, the MTA offers reduced fares to treatment facilities. Ask the treatment center directly for access to discount bus passes.
Baltimore also offers special fares for students:
- All Access College Transit Pass: Offers a reduced fare for students attending Maryland colleges, universities, and trade or technical schools
- MARC Student Advantage Discount Card: Students 16 and up get 15% off MARC train tickets
- MTA student fares: Students in K-12 that attend private or religious schools get reduced fares with student ID
Boston fare-free bus pilot program
In Boston, residents can ride three free bus routes: 23, 28, and 29 as part of a pilot program by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to offer free bus rides. These routes serve Mattapan, Roxbury, Dorchester, and other areas.
The free bus fare program also applies to RIDE paratransit riders who are traveling within a quarter-mile of these routes. RIDE paratransit is available to people who cannot ride the bus, subway, or trolley due to a temporary or permanent disability that impacts mobility. It’s a shared ride service providing door-to-door transportation that you must apply for. The free ride service runs through Feb. 29, 2024.
Chapel Hill, N.C., free transit
Chapel Hill Transit (CHT) is a free, fixed-route bus service serving Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Those unable to ride the CHT routes by bus due to permanent or temporary challenges with mobility or disability can apply to ride the EZ Rider paratransit service free of charge.
The EZ Rider paratransit service offers a fleet of vehicles that pick people up from their homes and drive them to their destinations.
Chicago, Ill. free and reduced ride transit program
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) offers free rides to active-duty military service members, disabled veterans, seniors (65+) and disabled persons enrolled in the Illinois Department of Aging Benefit Access Program. If you are 65 and over or a disabled person not in the Benefit Access Program, you can still get a reduced fare.
Children under the age of 7 ride free with a paying rider. Children 7 to 11 years old are eligible for reduced fares of $1.10 per trip all days of the week. Students ages 7 to 20 (elementary through high school) can ride for $0.75 on school days between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. with a Student Ventra card.
If you attend a participating college in Chicago, you can ride free on CTA buses and trains with the U-Pass during the school year.
DASH free bus fare program in Alexandria, Va.
In Alexandria, Va., you can ride public transit for free. The city stopped collecting fares in Sept. 2021. You can get on any DASH bus and get around the city quickly without a ticket. The fare-free ride program includes the King Street Trolley cars.
Looking to the future, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is reviewing zero-fare and low-income rider programs for other Virginia cities in fiscal year 2024.
Denver, Co., free fare months
In Denver, and 31 other transit agencies in Colorado, all transit rides are free in June, July, and August, 2023. This is to help reduce emissions in the summer months and improve air quality for the city.
Houston, Tx. METRO discounted and free fares
The Houston METRO allows children five and under to ride free with an adult. You can also ride free if you are:
- 70+ years of age
- Disabled veteran or recipient of the Medal of Valor
- A METROLift paratransit rider
- Reporting for a jury summons
You can get a reduced bus fare of $0.60 (regular rate is $1.25) on your discount ride card if you are:
- A K-12 student
- Are a student at a participating college
- A senior aged 65-69
- A disabled person not eligible for METROLift
Intercity Transit free bus fares in Olympia, Wash.
Intercity Transit in Olympia, Wash. provides a zero-fare transit system. Residents can ride the bus for free through at least Jan. 2028.
Los Angeles (Calif.) Metro fare capping and free rides
In Los Angeles, starting in summer 2023, a new fare structure will begin. Those using the TAP card will never pay more than $5 each day or $18 each week for unlimited metro rides.
LA Metro also offers reduced fare programs for low-income households, students, seniors, disabled persons, and employees of participating businesses. For example, the LIFE program offers a free 90-day pass upon sign up, 20 free rides per month, and discounted rides to keep costs down for low-income residents of LA County.
Miami, Fl. citywide free trolley and free and reduced bus fares
If you are in the Miami Beach area, you can use the free trolley. It provides daily service from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., arrives every 20 minutes, and connects to Miami-Dade Metrobus routes.
The Miami-Dade Metrobus offers free Wi-Fi on board and a range of options for free and reduced fare travel around the city, including:
- Special Pass: Allows seniors 65+, Social Security beneficiaries, low-income residents of Miami-Dade County (max annual income of $21,870), veterans, and preschool students (with an adult) to ride the Metrobus at no cost
- College discount: Full-time college students at participating schools can buy a reduced 30-day pass for $56.25 (50% off)
- EASY Card: This program provides free Metrobus shuttle service and discounted bus fares for Medicare card holders, disabled persons, and seniors outside of Miami-Dade county
- K-12 discount: Students in Miami-Dade County schools can get half-price Metrobus rides
- Corporate discount: If your employer participates, you can get up to 15% off of a 30-day Metrobus pass
- Commuter reduced fare: If you earn between $21,871 and $29,160, you can ride Metrobus and Metrorail for half price
NJ Transit free bus pass
NJ Transit works with businesses to administer the “Get A Job Get A Ride” Program. It's for recently unemployed N.J. residents returning to work who use NJ Transit to get to their new job. Through the program, new employees can get a free bus pass good for one month if they meet these qualifications:
- New Jersey resident
- Can ride NJ Transit bus, train, or light rail
- At least 18 years old and not a full-time student
- Work at east 20 hour each week
- Make $10 per hour or less
- Were unemployed for 30 days or more before starting work
- Are not receiving public assistance
NJ Transit also offers reduced fares for:
- Military personnel and veterans
- Full-time college students in the University Partnership Program
- Residents with disabilities
- Seniors aged 62 and over
New York’s MTA upcoming fare-free pilot and current reduced fares
A fare-free bus route in each of the five boroughs of New York City is planned for 2024. We’ll keep you posted on the launch date of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) free-fare pilot.
Currently, children under 44 inches tall can ride free with a fare-paying adult. Plus, when you use the OMNY contactless pay system, you ride free for the rest of the week once you take 12 paid trips in that week.
A 50% fare discount is available for:
- Seniors over 65 years of age
- Eligible low-income residents
- Disabled persons
Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority free and reduced fares
The OCTA’s OC Bus offers free rides for passengers 5 and under. Students with the Community College Pass also ride for free — they simply need to be enrolled in an Orange County community college.
There are discounted bus fares for seniors, disabled persons, and passengers between the ages of 6 and 18. Employees who work at eligible companies can apply for the Perk Pass with a monthly maximum of $69 for unlimited rides.
Students can take advantage of discounted fares, including:
- College Pass – 30-day reduced fare bus pass for student with nine or more credit hours per semester at a participating college
- University Pass – Discounted bus rides for students who attend Chapman, Cal State Fullerton, and UC Irvine
Orlando, Fla., free rapid transit
The City of Orlando LYNX transit runs LYMMO, a park-and-ride bus system that circulates throughout the downtown area. It’s a rapid transit option since buses operate in LYMMO-designated lanes to avoid city traffic.
RideKC free bus passes in Kansas City, Mo.
In Kansas City, RideKC buses are free through December 2023. The KC Streetcar, which travels a two-mile loop in downtown Kansas City, is also free and has been since 2016.
Veterans ride free with the RideKC Veterans Pass on two routes:
- 199 Micro Transit KCK
- 499 Micro Transit Johnson County
The U Pass is a discounted bus fare program for students who attend:
- University of Missouri-Kansas City
- Metropolitan College of Kansas City
- Johnson County Community College
- Kansas City Kansas Community College
- Kansas City Art Institute
- Donnelly College
RideKC Freedom paratransit shuttles also offer reduced transit fares for eligible riders.
San Francisco MTA free bus fares
The San Francisco MTA offers free rides through its Muni transit system, a network of buses, light rail trains, street cars, and cable cars.
Those eligible for free rides include:
- Children 18 or under
- Seniors 65 or over with low to moderate income
- Adults with qualified disabilities and low to moderate income
- Homeless persons
Utah free fare bus zones
In downtown Salt Lake City, you can ride a Utah Transit Authority (UTA) fixed-route bus, in a paratransit vehicle, or on a TRAX train as long as you get on or get off within the free fare zone.
Plus, UTA offers 50% off the regular fare for:
- Youth ages 6-18
- Seniors 65 years and over
- People with a medically verified disability
- Low-income riders with an annual income 150% or less than the federal poverty guidelines
Washington D.C. Metrobus free bus fares coming in 2024
Starting Jul. 1, 2024 all Washington, D.C. Metrobus bus rides in the capital will be free.
Winston-Salem (N.C.) free Bus Pass Match Distribution Program
In Winston-Salem, there is a program that offers free bus passes to qualified low-income riders. The city works with local nonprofits to distribute them.
To find out how to get a pass, contact CityLink at 336-727-8000.
Learn how to get free bus tickets for long-distance travel and check out these other free resources: