Lawmakers celebrate free R-Line bus fare starting in September

“Having free public transit across our state will help rid our streets of congestion and give a boost to businesses,” said Senator Meghan Kallman. “Scrapping the bus fare would be a windfall to many of the families who spend a good part of their income on transportation.
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Published on June 23, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

State Senator Meghan Kallman and Representative Leonela Felix held a press conference in Kennedy Plaza on Thursday afternoon to highlight the recently passed budget that includes a year-long free-fare pilot program along the R-Line, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (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 hopes to 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. Senator Kallman informed Uprise RI that there will be no Wave card needed, it will be a simple process of jumping on and off the bus at stops.

Senator Kallman and Rep Felix had previously proposed free RIPTA bus fare for the entire system. The R-Line accommodates about half of all RIPTA riders, so this program is an important test and proof of concept. The idea for free bas fares in Rhode Island was first reported on by Uprise RI in 2018, when Professor Barry Schiller, a contributor to UpriseRI who served on the RIPTA Board from 1995-99, addressed the RIPTA Board during public comment.

“I am thrilled with our free-fare pilot program for the R-Line, which is the most used route in the state,” said Senator Kallman (Democrat, District 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 Representative Felix (Democrat, District 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.”

“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.”

This isn’t the only free fare concept being tested in the state. Earlier this year, through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Accelerating Innovative Mobility (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.

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