Aug 29, 2022 - News

GRTC ridership surpasses pre-pandemic levels

Illustration of a bus that is displaying an upward trend line.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

GRTC’s ridership has eclipsed pre-pandemic levels, bucking a nationwide trend that has left most major transit systems hurting for passengers.

Why it matters: State and federal funding for the bus system is driven in part by ridership, setting GRTC up for a positive feedback loop of more money, more service and more customers, Richard Hankins, a spokesman for the advocacy group RVA Rapid Transit, tells Axios.

What’s happening: GRTC has a few things working in its favor, says Jennifer DeBruhl, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

  • It’s one of seven agencies in the state that went fare-free during the pandemic, relying partly on grant money.
  • And it redesigned its bus routes in 2018 to better connect people to jobs, she says.

Another major factor: Richmond’s ridership trends blue-collar, unlike Northern Virginia systems that cater more to office workers, many of whom now work remotely.

  • That helps explain why the Pulse, designed in part to lure downtown office workers onto the bus, is one of the few lines in the city on which ridership remains below pre-pandemic levels, Sam Sink, GRTC’s director of planning and scheduling, tells Axios.

By the numbers: GRTC served 777,000 riders in June — 15,000 more than in June 2019.

  • Over the same time period, D.C.’s Metro was down nearly 4 million passengers, while Hampton Roads Transit was down 460,000, and Virginia Railway Express was short 283,000.

What’s next: GRTC is expanding service deeper into Chesterfield with a 5-mile extension to the existing Midlothian Turnpike route.

  • And in the coming months, GRTC is planning to begin early planning meetings to discuss the addition of a new North-South bus rapid transit line.

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