Transportation

No tickets, passes or cash: Petaluma Transit goes fare free

Petaluma Transit
Credit
Noah Berger

Petaluma Transit stopped fare collection on July 1. For the next year, they’ll test the impacts of offering free transit service.

Fixed-route and paratransit service are included in the fare-free pilot. Residents don’t need to apply for the program—the initiative includes all riders. It’s the second fare-free program in California, and first in the Bay Area, without any eligibility or application requirements. However, riders will no longer receive transfer tickets to other agencies, according to Petaluma Transit's announcement.

Petaluma Transit considered testing fare-free transit because of its potential benefits to riders, including alleviating the financial burden of transportation for low-income riders and improving access, and their own successes with free transit days. They saw increased ridership from fare-free programs in the past: their K-12 program brought youth ridership up 35%, Holiday Weekends Free for Holiday Shopping increased ridership by 60%, and free rides during the Butter and Egg Days festival drove ridership up by 381%. Moving to a fare-free model full-time could reduce traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse emissions, and make travel affordable and accessible for everyone.

Losing fares wouldn’t substantially impact Petaluma Transit—only 10% of the agency’s budget comes from the farebox. While considering both the costs needed for fare collection and the farebox recovery, the transit agency did not find fares substantially benefited them, but fare payment did create a barrier for some residents. Funding was sought to replace the farebox’s 10% for the one-year pilot.

The City of Petaluma and Sonoma County funded the pilot program, including the city’s General Fund, Sonoma County Climate Resilience Fund and SCTA’s Go Sonoma Fund. The program will be monitored and evaluated throughout its year-long run.

The City of Petaluma and Sonoma County replaced the farebox’s 10% contribution and funded the pilot program. The funds come from a variety of places including the city’s General Fund, Sonoma County Climate Resilience Fund and SCTA’s Go Sonoma Fund. The program will be monitored and evaluated throughout its year-long run.

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