Zero fares boost bus ridership by 20% in Thurston County

VIDEO: Zero-fares boosts bus ridership by 20-percent in Thurston County

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. — Free fares for people using Intercity Transit buses has led to a big spike in ridership.

"The zero fare has really helped with the budget,” said Lynda Corso.

Thurston County’s new zero-fare policy is clearly a hit with riders.

Content Continues Below

"Zero fare is really nice, it helps me save for school,” said Kevin Becker.

"It’s kind of nice not having to come up with the change or anything,” said Donna Stuart.

Every rider KIRO 7 spoke to is a fan of the new program, which began at the start of the year.

In January, Intercity Transit tallied more than 400,000 rides, which is 66,329 more than during the same time frame in 2019.

"It’s happening quickly, we’re really pleased with the numbers,” said Ann Freeman-Manzanares, Intercity Transit general manager.

Weekday rides rose by more than 15%. On the weekends, boardings were up nearly 50%

Frequent riders said they can tell a difference.

"Lots more people on the bus, especially students, but a lot more,” said Corso.

"It’s packed a lot, so take care of your personal hygiene,” said Gerald Wilson.

Rides used to cost $1.25 each or $2.50 per day.

Intercity Transit said they had an outdated fare collection system they needed to replace. They planned to switch to the regional ORCA fare, but it’d cost more than a million dollars, which didn’t add up.

"What we were bringing in in fares, it wasn’t really a good value proposition for us,” said Freeman-Manzanares.

After starting 2020 strong, they’re optimistic ridership will continue to grow.

“If you need to go somewhere, get on the bus,” said Wilson.

If the zero-fare system continues to be a success, the program could be in place for five years.

The goal is to increase ridership by 60%, which could help Thurston County with federal grants in the future.