By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — Do you support free public transit? More specifically, do you want your local tax dollars going to support fare-free bus service?

A recent letter sent to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak and signed by elected official from 15 Massachusetts communities, including two Wakefield Town Councilors, appeared to pledge local funding to the goal of fare-free bus service around the region.

Written on the letterhead of the Mayor of Cambridge, the letter was signed by Wakefield Town Councilors Jonathan Chines and Mehreen Butt along with elected officials in 14 other communities, including Cambridge, Amesbury, Boston, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Newburyport, Newton, Rowley, Somerville, Watertown, Winchester and Worcester.

The letter requests the MBTA’s “collaboration with us as the elected and appointed representatives of our respective communities in an effort to ensure that there is a fair, equitable and standardized process for implementing fare free bus pilots, and potentially permanent fare-free service on specific MBTA bus routes.”

The letter cites a recent fare-free bus pilot program in Boston as “an effective means of attracting riders back to the MBTA system,” adding, “We hope to expand upon the success of this pilot in each of our respective municipalities, and specifically move forward with pilots on bus routes that run through multiple municipalities.”

Where it gets sticky is on the matter of how such “free” bus service will be paid for. The letter signed by the elected officials directly asserts that the communities that they represent would be willing to foot the bill for this fare-free service.

“While the implementation of fare-free buses requires a partnership between our municipalities and the MBTA, we are not asking the MBTA to simply forgo fare revenue to make this happen. Our communities are willing to fund fare-free buses because of the benefits we know they would bring.”

The Item reached out to Jonathan Chines and Mehreen Butt, who signed on to the letter as Wakefield Town Councilors. We inquired about the statement. “Our communities are willing to fund fare-free buses,” and asked whether any Town Meeting appropriation or Town Council vote had authorized such a commitment on behalf of the town.

Both Chines and Butt denied that their signatures indicated that they were speaking for the town or for the full Town Council in voicing community support for funding free bus service.

“I signed the letter to MBTA General Manager Poftak as an individual town councilor, and not on behalf of the Town Council as a whole,” Chines said. “The letter does not commit the Town of Wakefield to any course of action, but instead asks the MBTA to show flexibility in working with communities to evaluate free and reduced fare programs. Transportation access is one of the greatest challenges facing our region in terms of economic development, quality of life, and affordability. The MBTA charges Wakefield more than $600,000 in annual assessments, and we must continue exploring opportunities to partner with the MBTA to improve the service available to our residents.”

Similarly, Butt asserted that she was speaking only for herself.

“I signed the letter to the MBTA General Manager Poftak as an individual Town Councilor and not on behalf of the Town Council as a whole,” Butt said in an email. “I have been committed to continuously asking the MBTA to consider the needs of riders from Wakefield with a focus on reliability, safety and affordability. In 2019 I signed on to a letter speaking up against a system-wide MBTA fare increases. The letter this month was a continuation of advocating for accountability on behalf of Wakefield riders.”

The letter signed by Chines and Butt cites “transportation equity” as a benefit of eliminating bus fares.

“We believe this effort will help improve the efficiency of public transit, improve transportation equity, reduce emissions, and create safer streets that will save lives,” the letter asserts. “Even before the pandemic, we knew that fare-free buses contributed to advancing transportation equity and efficiency goals by treating public transit as a public good. Compared to driving and other modes of transit, buses carry a disproportionately high share of low-income and minority riders who have long faced barriers to transportation equity.”