Blacksburg could make it free to ride the bus.
The town of Blacksburg is considering making it free for all passengers to ride the bus.
In 2020, the Blacksburg Transit system began a temporary fare-free policy. The town council will consider whether to make it permanently free at their next meeting Tuesday evening, December 13.
Virginia Tech students, faculty and staff already had free access to buses before the pandemic.
Town leaders have been working for 20 years to reduce the ever-increasing number of people driving cars.
Before the pandemic, bus ridership was growing exponentially, but ridership dropped in 2020, said Brian Booth, executive director of Blacksburg Transit. “The passengers, their habits have changed, so they’ve found other modes, as opposed to using the bus,” Booth said.
Ridership for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022 was 3.2 million riders a year, compared with 4.6 million in 2019.
"But we were also only operating about 70 percent of the service level as we were pre-COVID," said Booth.
"This lower service level is due directly to the labor shortage experienced across the nation and we have struggled to rebuild our workforce to be able to return to pre-pandemic service levels as a result.”
Booth said they learned during the pandemic that the loss of revenue in ticket sales doesn’t impact their budget very much, since most of their funding comes from grants, advertising on buses, and support from community partners, like Virginia Tech.
Operating a fare-free system also makes the transit system eligible for more grants and could help entice more people to return to the bus.