The Success Story of Alexandria’s Free Buses

Thanks to state and regional funding, the city eliminated fares while making service improvements.

2 minute read

June 7, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

“Many cities enacted fare-free transit options during the pandemic, both as a means to help essential workers and to limit interactions. But as life returns to a semblance of normal, some cities are backing away from the idea.” 

Not so in Alexandria, Virginia, where buses remain free two years after fares were first eliminated during the early part of the pandemic, writes Jake Blumgart in Governing. 

“Ridership on Alexandria’s buses has surged back to almost pre-pandemic levels not only because of free fares. A redesign of the bus system that allowed for increased frequencies is an equally important part of the story,” Blumgart notes. Critics of fare-free transit often argue that cutting fares often sacrifices service. In Alexandria’s case, state and regional funding allowed the city to maintain and improve service while keeping fares free. “Alexandria was able to compete for funds from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which allowed them to provide free fares for the next three years. Competitive monies from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission are used to increase frequencies on the city’s bus lines and redesign the system.”

City leaders are optimistic that they will be able to continue financing free fares and service improvements thanks to Alexandria’s robust tax base. “The city is in the midst of a decadeslong growth spurt and the population is the highest ever. Valuations of properties are greater than during the pandemic too, so Alexandria policymakers won’t face the hard choices of more depressed municipalities.”

Friday, June 3, 2022 in Governing

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