RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — People won’t have to pay for bus rides in the Richmond area over the next year after the Greater Richmond Transit Company approved a plan to maintain its zero-fare policy.

GRTC’s board of directors finalized the transit company’s operating budget for fiscal year 2023 on Tuesday, a $64.5 million spending plan that includes $5.5 million to continue the policy.

The money set aside in the upcoming fiscal year for the zero-fare program includes $4.5 million in grant funding from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and $1 million in funding from the City of Richmond.

DRPT awarded GRTC $8 million in state grant funding last December to cover the free-fare operation and study its impact on passengers through June 30, 2025.

Funding from DRPT’s grant drops over three years from $4.5 million to $2.5 million in fiscal year 2024 and to $1 million in fiscal year 2025, leaving GRTC to have to match the state funds in that span to keep the program and study moving forward.

Richmond’s budget for fiscal year 2023, approved by the City Council earlier this month, did not earmark funds to match the state grant.

But GRTC’s FY23 budget has a nearly $7.6 million contribution from the city, along with $4.1 million from Henrico County and just under $249,000 from Chesterfield, according to its plan.

The transit company suspended fare collections in March 2020 to limit close contact between passengers and employees, but calls to keep the initiative going continue to grow. Groups such as RVA Rapid Transit, a nonprofit advocating for public transit in the region, have cited the need for financial relief for riders.

According to GRTC, most local riders have annual household incomes of less than $25,000 and a quarter make under $10,000 a year.

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