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GRTC extends zero fare program for another year

A draft of the Commonweath Transportation Board’s Six-Year Improvement Plan includes funding for more free bus rides

RICtoday_PulseBus_LaunchPhoto

The Pulse brought rapid transit back to Richmond when it launched in 2018.

Photo by GRTC

Funding set aside by the Commonwealth Transportation Board will bring Richmonders another year of fare-free GRTC rides. The CTB’s Six Year Improvement Plan for fiscal year 2025 includes about $3.6 million for the program.

GRTC suspended its fares on March 19, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It adopted the policy as a social distancing measure to prevent riders from having to huddle at fare boxes. The program costs around $6.8 million annually.

The initial decision to stop charging riders was made possible by an $8 million Transit Ridership Incentive Program grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. That money was matched by the city and VCU.

A GRTC bus pulled up to a bus stop at the new Downtown Transfer Station.  A sign reads "Bay A."

GRTC suspended all fares in March 2020 as a social distancing measure.

Photo by RICtoday

In December 2022, after nearly two years without charging riders, GRTC reported a 15% overall uptick in ridership. Its board voted unanimously to continue the program through June 2024.

Until recently, the question of whether funding could be secured to further suspend fares remained unanswered. CTB’s contribution, however, will complete a pool of funding from various sources.

VCU contributes $1.2 million a year towards the program. Resources left over from 2020’s initial funding also continues to keep things rolling.

Fare-free bus rides aren’t the only thing CTB’s Six Year Plan allocates money for. There’s also $3.5 million for GRTC’s extension to Virginia Center Commons, almost $14 million for new buses, and $3 million for general infrastructure needs.

Want to share your thoughts on the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s plan, or on the future of a fare-free GRTC? CTB is collecting public comment until Monday, May 20.