Public Health & Recreation

Express Delivery: Beach Bus Provides Relief From the Heat

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The Route 66 Express Beach Bus drops off beachgoers at Scarborough State Beach. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Bright and early on a Sunday morning earlier this month, the Route 66 Express Beach Bus started making its way toward Narragansett, carrying 14 eager beachgoers — well, 12 beachgoers, an ecoRI News reporter, someone who had accidentally gotten on the wrong bus, and a 2-year-old chihuahua named Coco.

If things had gone wrong — or perhaps right in some people’s opinions — the journey never would have happened, and the beach bus would no longer exist.

A few months ago, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority announced that it was retiring the express beach bus route. RIPTA cited a dearth of riders and lack of staff for the shutdown. However, after public backlash — transit advocates and the bus drivers’ union spoke out against the cancellation — Gov. Dan McKee instructed the agency to reinstate the route and publicize it better.

RIPTA has beefed up its advertisement of the bus to draw more riders, according to spokesperson Cristy Raposo Perry. RIPTA launched a bilingual digital and social-media campaign, advertising the route on more than 10 radio stations.

It’s unclear if the campaign or the buzz surrounding the near death of the beach bus has increased ridership. RIPTA hasn’t sampled enough trips this season to estimate how many riders have been taking the express route, Raposo Perry wrote in an email to ecoRI News. Last year, the bus averaged nine riders per trip, The Boston Globe reported.

Whether the popularity of the bus is growing or waning, riders who recently spoke with ecoRI News said it was the best or only way for them to get to the beach.

Singh Ritambhara and Gabriel Provence-Langlois had their beach bag and umbrella packed for a Sunday outing at Scarborough State Beach. Both live in Providence and work at Brown University. Neither owns a car.

They have taken the express a few times in previous summers and said it’s a convenient way for them to get to the beach — the regular route can take 2 hours or more, depending on traffic. Their only complaint is that the express only runs a few times a day from the city, early in the morning.

On the express route, buses leave from Central Falls, Woonsocket, North Providence, and Providence between 9 and 9:35 a.m. and travel for about an hour to Scarborough, Roger Wheeler, and Salty Brine beaches. Another set of buses leave from those beaches and head back to those cities at 3:05 p.m., 3:10 p.m., and 3:15 p.m. The beach express only runs on weekends.

According to Raposo Perry, the national labor shortage is an obstacle to creating more beach routes and maintaining the ones RIPTA currently has.

“While we will do our best to cover all our scheduled service, we kindly ask for our passengers’ patience,” she wrote.

Ritambhara and Provence-Langlois picked up the beach bus at the Exchange Terrace Stop X, where the bus left at 9:30 a.m.

“Times are very restrictive,” Provence-Langlois said.

“There could be one more at a reasonable time,” Ritambhara added.

In addition to adult city dwellers without cars, high school students also frequent the beach bus. Six of the beach-bus passengers that Sunday morning were high school students visiting Rhode Island for Brown University’s pre-college program. A few more had planned on taking the bus but missed it, according to their friends who made it on time.

Charlie Fitzgerald, 16, planned with some other students to take the bus to the beach that weekend in the middle of their two-week pre-college program. One of his friends had done research to find the best route and settled on the express.

“Why would we spend $70 on an Uber when we could do public transit for free?” he said. (Brown University pays for its students to use RIPTA, so it was free for the students through the university’s UPass program, otherwise the bus would cost $2 each way.)

Fitzgerald, who is from Louisville, Ky., said when he goes to a new city, he loves to explore and try getting around like locals do. “It’s called the beach bus, it’s so cool,” he said.

Sarah Foster, 17, another Brown University pre-college student, said the environmentally friendly aspect of the bus appealed to her. She also said having the option to take the bus straight to the beach was wonderful and that compared to Florida, where she is from.

Even for those with a car, the bus can be a cheaper and more relaxing alternative to driving.

Richard and Sue Cesino from Cranston do own a car but have been taking the beach bus for years. Between paying for parking and gas, driving is too expensive, they said.

“And then you don’t have money to eat,” Richard said. Sue explained that they like to buy a basket of fried clams or another snack when they go to the beach. 

The Route 66 Express Beach Bus isn’t the only option for transit-riding beachgoers. The Beach Bus Express, which runs along the regular 66 line to the University of Rhode Island and Galilee, is just one of several routes that provides access to Rhode Island’s beaches.

Fatima Sabree had meant to hop on the regular Route 66 from Providence with Coco that Sunday morning. Sabree is a Wakefield resident who doesn’t own a car. Though she wasn’t planning on heading to the beach that day, she said she often does take other buses to the beach when she doesn’t use the electric scooter her son bought her to get around.

“It’s easy. It’s convenient,” she said as she pointed out the window to the traffic. “See that traffic!” Sabree said she prefers to sit in the bus and relax in the air-conditioning, though it might make Coco a little cold.

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