Dec 18, 2023 - News

Richmond bucks nationwide transit slump

Public transit ridership recovery
Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Among metro areas with at least 500,000 people; Richmond's data compares August 2023 to August 2019; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

As public transit agencies around the country struggle, Richmond's GRTC continues to be a rare bright spot.

What's happening: Richmond is one of nine metro areas in the country where more people are riding public transit than before the pandemic, according to data from the American Public Transportation Association.

Why it matters: You don't have to look far to find transit agencies facing starkly different fortunes.

  • In D.C., Metro's operator is warning of massive cuts it says would send the system in a death spiral — their words — if Virginia, Maryland and D.C. don't kick in another $750 million in subsidies.

By the numbers: GRTC counted more than 915,000 trips by riders in August, up from 871,000 during the same month in 2019.

  • That jump puts Richmond at 105% of its pre-pandemic ridership, putting us in sixth place nationwide among the 100 largest metro areas.
Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Among metro areas with at least 500,000 people; Richmond's data compares August 2023 to August 2019; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Among metro areas with at least 500,000 people; Richmond's data compares August 2023 to August 2019; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Zoom out: Poughkeepsie, New York (150.3%); Worcester, Massachusetts (141%) and Youngstown, Ohio (130%) had the highest ridership rates this past September compared to four years earlier.

  • Raleigh, North Carolina (36%); Scranton, Pennsylvania (38%) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (45%) had the lowest.
  • Nationally, "ridership recovered throughout 2022 and 2023 to stand at 77% of pre-pandemic levels in November 2023," per the APTA's latest big-picture data.

Between the lines: State and local transit officials have credited GRTC's resilience to a variety of factors.

  • The system went fare free at the beginning of the pandemic, a policy it is maintaining through at least June 2024.
  • The bus system was totally redesigned in an effort to increase efficiency in 2018.
  • And GRTC's ridership skews blue collar, meaning it hasn't been hit as hard by work-from-home policies.

What's next: GRTC is looking at a variety of ways to expand service.

Plus: GRTC is also testing a micro-transit, bus-on-demand service in less populated neighborhoods.

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