“Those who can’t afford a car are unable to get to the beach, while those with a car are rewarded with streamlined services. In essence, the state has incentivized driving while punishing those who use alternative transportation.“
This summer, tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders will be heading to the beaches to enjoy the sun and sand. Left out of the fun? Transit riders. Many low income people ride the bus, and the state has shut down key services for them to get to the beach. They have been left out of other summer activities as well. Rhode Island’s official reopening guidelines object to games like soccer and basketball, which other states have allowed, even while letting golf courses and tennis courts resume operations for an often more privileged clientele.
RIPTA has not resumed its popular Beach Buses which used to run on weekends every summer from northern areas that lack beaches to the South County beaches. The cleaner air, clear ocean waters and recreation that beaches offer are a public good, and low-income communities need these things as much as anyone. Apparently state decision-makers realized that it’s important to open the beaches to give people relief, but still were willing to shut down the Beach Buses that have traditionally allowed low-income people a share of that relief. This inequality must be rectified.
While RIPTA does have some beach service via its regular routes, this is not a sustainable solution for families coming from places such as Woonsocket, for whom it would take upwards of two and a half hours to get to Scarborough Beach. The cancellation of the summer Beach Buses hits hard. For some of Rhode Island’s best summer destinations, they provided express service, making a quick family beach outing practical. Now, the only available alternative for bus riders is to make their way to slow, local buses.
Why hasn’t RIPTA resumed the Beach Buses? The Department of Environmental Management and the Health Department failed to account for foot traffic when calculating a safe number of people on the beach, according to RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian during a June 17th, 2020 meeting of the RIPTA Board. After this oversight was pointed out, one would think that the state would have readjusted their calculations and allowed for bus passengers. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
On June 24th, Governor Raimondo announced increased parking at state beaches to 75% capacity. She also made the buying of beach passes available online, to reduce tie-ups at parking entrances and traffic backups. Another way to reduce parking and traffic congestion? Allow some of the capacity at beaches to be used by bus passengers. Swimming and sunning are low-risk outdoor activities, and bus passengers should be offered the choice to enjoy them.
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Those who can’t afford a car are unable to get to the beach, while those with a car are rewarded with streamlined services. In essence, the state has incentivized driving while punishing those who use alternative transportation. In an era where we are grappling with climate change, do we really want to offer more parking and perks for drivers that will result in more pollution? RI Transit Riders urges RIPTA and the state to come up with a plan to restore the Beach Buses before the summer is over, as well as prepare for a more equitable plan next beach season.