GRTC takes a look at pandemic-era ridership trends

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GRTC bus stop

The GRTC bus stop at Navy Hill Drive and E. Jackson Street is one of many that have neither a bench or shelter for riders. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — GRTC Transit System ridership decreased by just 22% at the local level during the coronavirus pandemic, from May 2019 to May 2020, according to CEO Julie Timm.

During a presentation before the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors at its Wednesday meeting, Timm compared that statistic to the approximately 90% decline in public transit ridership that she said the U.S. saw nationally during the pandemic.

However, the public health crisis brought with it new costs for GRTC. For example, the budget for fleet and facility cleaning reached an all-time high in FY2021, and is projected to grow even more in FY2022.

Timm said that the transit system, which operates throughout the greater Richmond area, is also experiencing a staffing shortage that could have impacts on plans for expansion. According to her Wednesday presentation, there are 453 existing staff members and 38 vacancies.

The Commonwealth 20 is one of the GRTC lines in Chesterfield County. (Photo: GRTC)

“Until we’re able to recover from the staffing shortage, we won’t be looking to expand,” Timm said.

On routes where GRTC trips were decreased during the pandemic, Timm said that the transit system will wait to reinstate service until the need is there. Conversely, in Chesterfield County, Timm said that the Route 111 to John Tyler Community College is greatly exceeding projections for ridership, and there are plans to extend that service.

The presentation also included information about the type of residents that GRTC serves. According to data, 54% of the people served by the transit system have an annual household income below $25,000, and 79% have annual household incomes below $50,000. Moreover, many of GRTC’s riders live or work within a half mile of a stop, suggesting that usage of the transit system is defined by high-density land use.

“Our core market works where there are people who live and where they’re going to need to get jobs,” Timm said.

Additionally, Timm addressed the lack of shelters at GRTC’s more than 1,600 bus stops in the greater Richmond area for the average 8.13 million riders the transit system sees each year. She said that more funding is needed in order to increase the number of shelters available.

Timm also said that an upcoming Micro-Mobility Study will work to identify connectivity and mobility issues in specific jurisdictions. The results of the study are reportedly expected in the next four to six months.

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