DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado’s free transit program just got a boost.

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law on Friday that expands the grant program, designed to offer free public transit rides during peak ozone season. The new law allows transit agencies to roll over the money and use it for rider outreach. It also gives transit agencies more flexibility on when to use the money, as Colorado regions experience ozone season differently.

“Our bill expands this successful free transit program to save Coloradans money on fares and further reduce the amount of harmful ground-level ozone pollution released,” Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, said in a statement when the bill she sponsored passed the House.

“Our neighbors along the Front Range deal with some of the worst air quality in the state, and we’re making progress toward cleaning up our air with the free transit program,” Bacon said.

Denver skyline with visible air pollution
Air pollution in the Denver metro (KDVR)

Zero-fare effort increased transit ridership

Colorado lawmakers first approved the free-fare pilot program last year. It allocated $28 million for the effort, dubbed Zero Fare for Better Air, and provided free bus and train rides for the whole month of August. Statewide, 15 transit agencies took part.

RTD reported a 22% increase in ridership during the free-fare month and a jump of 36% from the August prior. The transit agency said some of the ridership growth carried into September, even after fare collection resumed.

RTD also found that even though the program increased ridership, “it did not result in widespread overcrowding” and did not affect the timeliness of rides.

The zero-fare impacts were not just in the Denver metro area. Counties around the state saw ridership jump during the free-fare month: Pueblo saw a 59% increase over the year prior, Archuleta County 56% increase and 48% for Mountain Metro in Colorado Springs.

Other prime sponsors of the bill include Rep. Stephanie Vigil, D-El Paso; Sen. Faith Winter, D-Adams, Broomfield, Weld; and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo.