Zach Armstrong, Contributing Writer
The Greater Richmond Transit Company and VCU are negotiating an extension of the deal that allowed students and employees to ride most GRTC buses for free, a university spokesperson said.
Under a one-year agreement, VCU and VCU Health cardholders have unlimited access to GRTC Pulse Bus Rapid Transit and regular fixed-route bus services. That contract will expire July 31. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the parties will have to reach a new agreement in April.
GRTC Interim CEO Charles Mitchell told the Times-Dispatch last month that VCU had proposed a plan that would only allow students to ride Route 5 and the Pulse to save money.
But some members of the transit company’s leadership said VCU should be paying more for the service in a recent board meeting, according to the Times-Dispatch. Board members were concerned about stagnant revenues despite a rise in ridership since the agreement with the university.
GRTC Director of Communications Carrie Rose Pace said an increase in ridership could mean the company gets more funding down the line.
“Over time, increases in ridership mean increased state funding to the transit system,” Rose Pace said.
Rose Pace said the company could not comment on specific negotiations with VCU.
Pamela Lepley, vice president for university relations, said VCU is committed to continuing a cost-effective transportation option that gives students and employees access to the entire GRTC system.
“We are working with GRTC and the city of Richmond to evaluate ridership, cost, performance and satisfaction during this trial period,” Lepley said.
Special fare cards were issued to students in the beginning of the spring semester. Since then, GRTC has been able to track how many students use the bus routes. Ridership numbers hit more than 82,000 among VCU affiliates in February, according to data revealed at a board of directors meeting in March. That is the highest number since the free ridership program began and more than double the amount it reached in its inaugural month.
News Editor Fadel Allassan contributed to this report.