RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) has announced that free bus rides will continue to be offered for another year.

The transit agency originally suspended all bus fare collections in March 2020 to limit contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After receiving $8 million in funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to support the program in December 2021, GRTC announced that the free bus fare policy would be extended through June 2025.

However, the requirement for that extension was that the DRPT grant would be matched by local funding. According to the agency, the free bus fare program has a total annual cost of $5.6 million. At the time, GRTC reported that the grant would be matched by the City of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University and others to ensure the June 2025 goal.

“I think we as a board stand committed to collaboratively supporting regional connectivity, and this vote supports that,” said Tyrone Nelson, Chairman of the GRTC Board of Directors. “Ridership for our agency is trending in the opposite direction from what the industry is experiencing, and we believe our Zero-Fare program helps our region stay connected.”

The GRTC’s governing board voted unanimously to extend the free bus fare program until June 2024 as a result of strong public support, an increase in transit equity and a 15% increase in ridership, according to the agency.

“As ridership continues to outpace previous years, we are optimistic that the value of accessible transit continues to grow with it,” GRTC Interim CEO Sheryl Adams said. “As we remain focused on the ridership experience, we continue to work towards improving the lives of essential workers, which includes our bus operators.”

The GRTC governing board says it will continue to study the financial impacts of extending the program beyond June 2024.