Free bus rides will continue under newly approved GRTC budget

By Jack Jacobs

(RBiz) – GRTC’s pandemic-born policy of free bus rides will continue in fiscal year 2023.

The transit company’s board of directors on Tuesday approved a $64.5 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes funding to continue to cover the costs of bus rides.

The authority earmarked $5.5 million in the budget to sustain the policy, which was enacted in March 2020. The money comes courtesy of $4.5 million in grant funding from the state’s department of rail and public transportation as well as $1 million sourced from local funding. The state funding comes as part of an $8 million grant that will allow GRTC to offer the free rides through June 2025.

The City of Richmond’s contribution to GRTC’s FY23 budget is $7.6 million. About $4 million comes by way of Henrico County and Chesterfield County is allocating roughly $249,000, according to a budget presentation. Three Henrico County representatives recently joined the board, bringing the board to nine members from the three localities.

GRTC also expects $21.4 million in funding from the Central Virginia Transit Authority, a regional authority that allocates tax money to transportation projects. This latest budget is the first since the start of the pandemic to not include federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The FY23 operating budget is a 2 percent increase from the current FY22 budget. The new fiscal year starts in July. The final FY23 budget proposal ticked upward slightly from the original $63.7 million budget pitch earlier this year.

GRTC has budgeted funding to maintain the bus service level aligned with the current FY22 budget, though CEO Julie Timm said in an interview prior to the board meeting that hiring challenges continue and could affect implementation of bus service.

The FY23 budget funds 300 full-time operator positions, up from the 275 positions originally planned. The budget earmarks $300,000 for market adjustments to employee salaries and $112,900 for staff training and development.

GRTC’s total April ridership was about 693,000 rides, a 4.5 percent increase from April 2021 and a 29 percent increase from April 2020.

Its total ridership for FY22 to-date is about 7 million rides, up from 6.4 million in the same period in FY21.

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