Foursquare ITP provided Richmond with a concrete feasibility assessment and roadmap for implementing three fare scenarios: full fare, account-based fare, and zero-fare. Like many transit agencies in the US, Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC)’s ridership cratered in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, GRTC’s customers are mostly transit-dependent and work in essential industries, so they continued to take the bus. Caught between needing to provide an essential service and fearing an operational catastrophe, they adopted a zero-fare policy and used state and federal funding to fill the financial gap created by lost fare revenue. As ridership rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels and supportive grants sunsetted, GRTC wanted to determine if they should return to collecting fares or proceed with alternatives.

Foursquare ITP assisted GRTC by assessing the agency’s existing ridership situation using the agency’s most recent ridership survey, and collating this with the community’s propensity towards transit use. Then, through a series of interviews and by using agency financial data, Foursquare ITP developed ridership and financial forecasts for the different fare policy scenarios. We presented a comparative financial evaluation indicating that there was little financial difference between remaining zero-fare or returning to fare collection.

Empowered by Foursquare ITP’s analysis to make a policy decision for non-financial reasons important to them, including social equity in their community, GRTC’s finance committee voted in December 2022 to extend the zero-fare structure until June 2024, with the expectation that the agency would revisit the policy again at that time.

Bus at a street pole.
Solutions and Outcomes
  • Educated GRTC and their board about different approaches to fare policy in light of changing ridership and a shifting financial picture.
  • Defined, evaluated, and compared the ridership and financial impacts of changing fare policy.
  • Provided GRTC with concrete information and clear policymaking narrative with which to make decision.