DASH has released its first annual report on its highly-successful free fares program. The report documents the successes, challenges, and lessons learned in the first twelve months of fare-free service. The report will be presented at the December 14, 2022 meeting of the ATC Board of Directors and is available on DASH’s website at dashbus.com/free.
Highlights of the report include:
- Average daily ridership on DASH has more than doubled since free fares were implemented with the biggest increases during middays, evenings, and weekends.
- DASH recorded over 380,000 boardings in September 2022 – the highest ridership in a single month since 2015 – establishing DASH as one of the few transit agencies in the region to return to – and surpass – pre-COVID ridership levels.
- Recent customer survey data indicates that free fares and increased service frequency from the bus network redesign have been the two biggest factors influencing historic ridership growth. Among low-income riders, more than 80% reported riding DASH more due to free fares.
- Internally, DASH bus operators have reported an increase in overall job satisfaction and perceived safety while onboard DASH buses despite a minor increase in passenger incidents attributable to the increased total ridership.
- Additional funding from the Alexandria City subsidy and a state grant award from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) have combined to offset the lost fare revenues during the program’s first year.
- Some cost savings have been identified via the elimination of costs associated with fare collection and the cancellation of a $5 million capital project to replace the obsolete farebox equipment, which previously exceeded useful life.
“We are ecstatic to see the significant benefits fare-free transit is providing our community. Not in over seven years have we seen this magnitude of ridership increases, all while the Federal Workforce remains in a primarily hybrid/remote work environment. We are immensely proud of the success of this program, one that is only possible due to the support of the Alexandria City Council and the Commonwealth of Virginia” said Josh Baker, DASH’s CEO & General Manager. “It is our hope that our success may be a framework for other transit systems considering similar programs.”
DASH eliminated passenger fare collection in September 2021, coinciding with the debut of its completely redesigned New DASH Network; a network redesign focused on more frequent, all-day service throughout the City. The fare-free policy was intended to make the network’s much more frequent and useful service more accessible to historically disadvantaged riders who often carry the heaviest burden from transit fares.
“Overall, the results have been extremely positive, and the program is achieving its primary goals and objectives. Ridership has increased dramatically, and the more vulnerable members of our community have been benefitting from affordable and highly useful transit service,” said Martin Barna, DASH’s Director of Planning and Marketing. “We believe that our program is evidence that the combination of free fares and frequent, all-day bus service can be a highly effective formula for reducing barriers to transit usage and making buses more relevant for more people across the community.”