The program, which is set to begin at some point in 2023, will run for at least two years as the city assesses how a zero-fare system impacts operations. They’ll also seek a revenue replacement for the expected revenue loss of nearly $1 million per year.


“This is one of those rare, rare community projects that will truly address climate, equity, economic objectives, livability objectives,” Nagle-Gamm told the council in May. “It could really put Iowa City on the map in all honesty, the ease with which people move throughout (a) community is a hallmark of a great community.”

Source: Council approves free bus rides across Iowa City in zero fare push

Oh my, this is fantastic news. I’ve been saying they should do this for years and even considered attending a city council meeting to say as much. I never did, but clearly, someone else was on the same wavelength. It’s also great that buses come 3 times every hour now and that they’re in the middle of switching them all to be electric.

This can have so many good effects. Once it’s easier to get to other places in the city, people will just go. Everyone can ride if they want, even if they couldn’t afford to before. They’ll go to different businesses and spend money differently because it’s easier and you don’t have to think about parking downtown, etc. More people can get to work without a car. There will be fewer emissions associated with cars. They won’t have to build as many parking garages. People will buy fewer cars because it’s hard to argue with free.

I just hope the demand isn’t too crazy too fast, but if it is, that’s great in many ways. If the bus came every 10 minutes instead of every 20, it would be great.

Of course, there’s the whole “how do we pay for this after the funding runs out” problem, but we’re not talking about a ton of money for a whole city to come up with. Less than $1M/year right now. We’re talking less than $15 per person per year, on average. How much do parking garages cost? Apparently, about $10M. So, okay, if the city reallocates funds from building another parking garage, that funds free buses for everyone for 10 years. Easy. And we may still need better parking downtown but hey, we already have roads and buses that are often empty in the middle of the day, and this should definitely offset that need. Everyone benefits, even if they don’t ride the bus.

I wish they had done this 10 years ago, of course, but gosh, I’m glad they are and I hope they can make the money work out. And extend the hours, etc so people don’t need to own a car if they want to be out somewhat late. (Not a ton later. Just make it easier to come after 9 pm. Maybe just 30-60 more minutes.)

I definitely support being taxed extra for this.