Bus-only lanes in Rosslyn, Virginia. (Northern Virginia Transportation Commission)
Transit agencies across Virginia are seeking to increase ridership, even if it means dropping fares.
Throughout this month, the Virginia Railway Express, which connects Central and Northern Virginia to the District of Columbia, is suspending rail fares to mitigate the closure of several Metrorail stations in the commonwealth as well as increase ridership.
VRE head Rich Dalton said the temporary elimination of fares will “maximize VRE’s usage” as transit agencies promote their services and see increases in passengers.
Nearly 8 million passengers traveled by rail and bus through the commonwealth in June, which was nearly quadruple a low of 2.2 million in April 2020, according to data from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Those numbers cover all public transportation agencies in Virginia including Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s MetroRail, MetroBus and MetroAccess services.
Data show that ridership statewide is getting closer to pre-pandemic levels. The Greater Richmond and Alexandria transit companies are among several transit systems whose ridership is now higher than it was before the pandemic, said Jennifer DeBruhl, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
The transit company in Richmond served 777,000 riders in June, which was 15,000 more than in June 2019.
DeBruhl said statewide increases are due to several factors, including transit operators making rides free, carefully monitoring community use and needs and campaigning across the commonwealth.
In March, the state launched the “Rediscover Your Ride” campaign to boost confidence in public transit. DeBruhl said another campaign will occur this month after seeing a stark rise in ridership this past March.
That effort will aim “to really get folks to discover transit as an alternative to getting in a single-occupant vehicle and getting where they need to go,” DeBruhl said. “So continuing that safety message, that availability message, I think is an important part of restoring ridership on our systems.”
Amtrak also saw an uptick in ridership as more passengers are traveling by rail, according to an Aug. 30 announcement by Amtrak and the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority.
A total of 110,256 passengers traveled on state-supported Amtrak trains in July, a 19.8% increase over pre-pandemic ridership in July 2019.
The authority said the addition of two new roundtrips, one to Norfolk and another to Roanoke, have provided more options for passengers.
D.J. Stadtler, executive director of the authority, said the demand for passenger rail is evident in the ridership increases.
“With the launch of two new roundtrips and the resumption of another, we know that rail works for the commonwealth and look forward to further expanding service throughout the state,” Stadtler said.
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