The GRTC Transit System passed a $63.2 million operational budget Tuesday that allows free fares to continue as ridership numbers edge upward after a pandemic-related drop last year.
The transit authority will not collect fares from riders through June 30, 2022, an extension of a policy it enacted in March 2020 as a response to the pandemic.
The projected $5.8 million in net revenue that fares would have provided in fiscal year 2022 is replaced in the budget by federal pandemic relief funds. GRTC collected $5.2 million in net fare revenue in FY19.
All told, GRTC’s operating and capital budgets come to about $90.3 million for FY22.
GRTC’s operating budget is a roughly $3 million increase from that of FY21, which leaned on government relief funding to make up a $26.1 million hole created by the disruptions of the pandemic.
GRTC could continue to offer fare-less rides beyond June 2022, though that would be dependent on whether third-party funding will be available, GRTC CEO Julie Timm said prior to the GRTC Board of Directors’ meeting Tuesday. Timm was hopeful local, state or federal government funds, or contributions by local nonprofits or businesses, might be acquired to cover riders’ tabs in the future.
“We’ll try to keep it going as long as we can,” Timm said.
In May 2021, total ridership was pegged at about 654,000 trips, a roughly 22 percent increase from total ridership of about 537,000 in May 2020. April total ridership was recorded at about 663,000, which was approximately 22 percent higher than the April 2020 ridership figure of 542,000, according to GRTC ridership reports
“If we’re comparing to 2020, we are of course doing much better than we were at the start of the pandemic, and comparing to 2019 we still have a lot of room to grow to get back to those numbers. But we are on trend, as you can see, moving toward those pre-COVID numbers,” Emily DelRoss, acting director of planning and scheduling, said while she presented the April monthly ridership report at the board’s May 18 meeting.
Last month’s total ridership was about 18 percent lower than May 2019 (800,000 rides) and April’s total ridership was about 16 percent lower than April 2019 (794,000 rides).
Ridership on GRTC’s new Chesterfield route came in at 4,441 in May, a 53 percent increase compared to May 2020. The route, which extends from Chippenham Parkway to John Tyler Community College, started in March 2020.
“This was a poorly connected area so we wanted to launch it. To our surprise it was a success even compared to non-COVID expectations,” Timm said.