Alexandria’s DASH bus network sees record high ridership after going fare-free

Alexandria’s DASH network has set a record high with 4.5 million boardings in a single year, according to the transportation company.

DASH said in a release that the record high boardings exceeded the previous ridership high of 4.3 million in 2015. DASH credited the success to a mix of taking the network fare-free and realigning the system to prioritize frequent service in higher-density corridors.

“To celebrate this milestone and thank our loyal customers, DASH will host a rider celebration event on the morning of Friday, August 18 at the King Street-Old Town Metrorail Station,” the release said. “The event will begin at 8:30 AM and will feature remarks from DASH and City officials, music, refreshments, and DASH giveaways.”

The turnaround is particularly startling compared to the dip to only 1.5 million riders in FY 2021 when the pandemic battered regional public transit ridership.

According to the release:

Since the launch of the fare-free New DASH Network in September 2021, DASH has seen unprecedented ridership growth that helped it become the first transit agency in the region to return to pre-pandemic ridership levels. In the last year, DASH ridership has continued its meteoric rise with the 451,000 passenger boardings recorded in April 2023 representing the highest ridership total for a single month in agency history. Today, DASH carries more than 15,000 boardings on a typical weekday and 7,000 to 10,000 boardings on Saturdays and Sundays. The 4.5 million total boardings in fiscal year 2023 eclipsed the previous record of 4.3 million in fiscal year 2015.

Still, paying for the network to stay fare-free has proven a challenge. DASH had been collecting around $4 million in fares before the fare-free program went into effect. City staff estimated the DASH subsidy will rise from the current $23.6 million to $45 million annually — barring additional grant funding. The DASH network is also working through the expensive process of converting its fleet to electric.

Photo via DASHbus/Facebook