State, community leaders highlight
free-fare pilot program on RIPTA’s R-Line
PROVIDENCE – Lawmakers, state and community leaders, and advocates gathered in Kennedy Plaza on Thursday to highlight an upcoming year-long free-fare pilot program along the R-Line, RIPTA’s busiest bus route.
Funding for the pilot program, which begins Sept. 1, 2022, has been included in the state budget agreement for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Final legislative approval of the budget and the Governor’s signature are expected in the coming days.
RIPTA’s R-Line runs from Pawtucket to Cranston via Downtown Providence, and it accounts for just more than half of all RIPTA’s passenger traffic. The free-fare program will provide riders with financial relief, generate economic activity, promote social equity, improve the safety and health of neighborhoods, and advance Rhode Island’s climate goals.
“I am thrilled with our free-fare pilot program for the R-Line, which is the most used route in the state,” said Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence). “Public transit is a public good – it is the glue that holds communities together. What’s more, transportation-related emissions make up about a third of the emissions in the Northeast. And so from both a climate and a community perspective, this is a critically important issue. Free transit is a crucial stepping-stone towards many simultaneous and interconnected goals: environmental and social justice and equity, emissions reductions, and a healthy and thriving local economy. Having free public transit across our state will help rid our streets of congestion and give a boost to businesses. Scrapping the bus fare would be a windfall to many of the families who spend a good part of their income on transportation. I believe that residents should be able to move freely around this state, regardless of income bracket.”
“Public transportation is a significant part of the fight for racial and social justice,” said Rep. Leonela “Leo” Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket). “We know that low-income and people of color use public transportation up to twice as frequently as white Americans. One of the most significant barriers to equitable transportation for low-income people is cost. Removing that barrier ensures that everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, or class – has a safe way to get to work or school, and to access critical services like health care or food. This will help employers as well, giving them access to a wider pool of workers.”
“Free public transportation is good for the entire economy because it makes our state more productive, reduces traffic congestion and pollution, and keeps more income in the pockets of hard-working Rhode Islanders, and seniors living on a fixed income,” said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. “We must continue to expand access to public transportation to keep Rhode Island’s economy competitive.”
“We want to thank the Senate for this funding opportunity which will allow us to gather data on what free fare programs may mean for public transportation," said Scott Avedisian, RIPTA’s Chief Executive Officer. “This pilot will give more people an opportunity to ride our busiest route, the R-Line, which connects Cranston, Providence, and Pawtucket. We will also be gathering free fare data through our pilot program in Central Falls, and this information will guide fare discussions in the future. We look forward to sharing the data we collect with the Governor, our Congressional delegation, and our Legislative leaders in order to ensure continued growth of ridership on RIPTA and sustainable public transportation for our state.”
“Reliable, accessible public transportation is a cornerstone of healthy communities, and here in Rhode Island, thousands of working families rely on RIPTA every day,” said Patrick Crowley, Secretary-Treasurer of the RI AFL-CIO and a member of the RIPTA Board of Directors. “This free-fare pilot on the R-Line will provide financial relief to those who need it most, generate economic activity and opportunity, and demonstrate the power of public transportation to make all our neighborhoods cleaner, safer, and more connected.”
The Senate this week approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Kallman (2022-S 2015A) authorizing the year-long free-fare pilot. Sen. Kallman and Rep. Felix previously sponsored legislation to make RIPTA bus fare free for all Rhode Islanders.
Earlier this year, through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Accelerating Innovative Mobility, or AIM, initiative, RIPTA launched the Ride Free in Central Falls pilot program, which uses the Wave smart card and mobile technology to provide free fares for rides originating in Central Falls. The pilot program will test the technology’s effectiveness.
Recent studies point to a growing preference and use of public transportation by younger Americans, particularly those in the millennial cohort, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. This is due to a number of factors, including less vehicle ownership and reliance; less need for travel due to more work and socialization at home via online access; more travel by foot, bike and shared-use services such car-sharing and ride-hailing.