‘It Gives Me, Me’: For One Rider, Bus Service is a Means of Independence
October 2, 2023
Editor’s note: This story is part of ecoRI News’ Rhody Riders series, a collection of stories about people who choose to live without a car and use a combination of walking, bicycling, and public transit to get around the Ocean State.
NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For Heidi Showstead, having access to bus service is a quality-of-life issue.
Her typical day includes three to four outings, between her volunteer work and active social life.
If she didn’t have access to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s services, Showstead, 45, wouldn’t be able to keep up with it all.
“It gives me, me,” she said. “Without it, I’d be trapped in my house.”
Showstead is legally blind and uses a wheelchair most of the time to get around, so unlike some RIPTA users, she relies solely on the agency’s service for people with disabilities that prevent them from using fixed routes. The service, called RIde, will pick up and drop off a user at a predetermined location.
“That’s a lot of scheduling,” Showstead said. Users cannot schedule “same day” rides and the vehicles do not take riders everywhere in the state, according to RIPTA’s website. Under federal regulations, the RIde service must operate within a 3/4-mile corridor on either side of a fixed route, according to RIPTA, and the service operates during the same hours that the fixed-route bus runs.
Ride shares, like Lyft and Uber, are largely inaccessible to wheelchair users, and Showstead rarely asks friends for rides. “If you start asking someone to do that for you weekly, not only are you going to burn that [transportation] bridge, you are going to kill that friendship,” she said.
So, RIde is often her only option. Showstead tries to give herself extra time in case RIde shows up early or late, which she has had some trouble with (when she met with ecoRI News, the RIde picking her up was delayed by traffic for about 40 minutes).
“I love my life, I wouldn’t change my disabilities,” she said, but she noted, “everything I do takes an extra week of planning.”
And Showstead is extremely busy. On the day she spoke with ecoRI, she attended a committee meeting to create an advocacy award in honor of a late friend, ate lunch with another acquaintance after the meeting, and then headed to a North Providence coffee shop for an interview.
Showstead dislikes when people think she has a lot of free time because of her disabilities — a misguided, preconceived notion she’s encountered a lot, she said.
She volunteers at the Warwick Public Library, she often does public speaking engagements at schools, and she loves going to concerts (and has attended some especially great ones at Garden City in Cranston, she said).
She also loves to be outdoors, which is also not always accessible via RIde. She’d like to learn how to use the train so that she can get to some nature preserves outside the state, she said.
Showstead is also in “the dating game,” as she put it, and can find it frustrating when she can’t be spontaneous or when drivers ask where she’s going en route to a date, even though she said it’s really none of their business.
“I appreciate RIde, it makes me independent, it gives me options, but when RIde only goes to certain places, certain times, that’s an issue,” she said. “I just want to do things that any human being can do on a daily basis.”