The state legislature is pushing hard for a pilot program that would establish free bus service on some routes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has not yet signed off on the plan, but legislators are hopeful it will make it into the final state budget due next week.

Lawmakers in Albany are advocating for free buses and drastically reduced wait times for subways. It’s a big ask, but they did include a pilot program in their separate budgets for the state Senate and Assembly.

What You Need To Know

  • Both the state Senate and Assembly are calling for a free bus service pilot program in the state budget

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul has yet to sign off on the plan

  • The MTA leadership has also expressed reservations about the plan’s viability, given its deficit

“We know that ridership has declined. We should have every single idea on the table for consideration as we are trying to get riders back into the system,” says Democratic Sen. Andrew Gounardes of Brooklyn. “We’ve seen other cities try this as well. We have seen some positive results. Why not try it in the biggest transit system in the country?”

The $50 million pilot program proposed by the legislature would create two free bus routes in each of the five boroughs.

But the MTA currently has a $1.3 billion gap. It’s also unclear where the revenue would come from to fully implement free bus service and more frequent trains citywide.

“The MTA always has a revenue problem. So, no matter what we do, they have a revenue problem,” said Democratic Sen. John Liu of Queens. “The focus is not on the revenue but in the service. If the MTA provides great service, the revenue and the service will follow.”

“I think a lot of this comes back to the question of what is the root cause of this deficit,” said Democratic Assemblymember Zorhan Mamdani of Queens. “And the root cause, frankly, is that we are over dependent on fare box revenue. And we have a ridership struggling to recover post pandemic. This is on the of many approaches we must take to get people back on the buses, back on the train.”

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for MTA CEO Janno Lieber issued a statement that did not address NY1’s question about free bus service.

“You understand my message is, has to be, and will continue to be, we must deal with the deficit that has opened up before start — we need to bake the cake before we go for the double extra frosting, right,” Lieber said at a hearing about it earlier this month.

The proposal would also freeze fares where they are now and not allow a hike.

Hochul has not embraced the legislature’s plan, and it’s unclear if any portion of it will be in the final budget due April 1.