Paratransit Service Ridership Increases in R-Line Corridor During RIPTA’s Free-Fare Pilot Program
May 8, 2023
While the R-line made headlines last month for the jump in ridership it saw during its ongoing free-fare pilot program, paratransit ridership around the R-line corridor has also increased.
The RIde Paratransit Program service for customers with disabilities within the R-Line corridor has increased at a rate two times greater than the system-wide rate since the free fare program started, according to Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s most recent quarterly report.
The program on the R-Line, which travels from Pawtucket to Providence, started in September and offers free fare to fixed-route riders and those who qualify for RIde who have a starting point and destination within three-quarters of a mile of the fixed route’s corridor.
Ridership on RIPTA and transit systems around the country has gone down since March 2020, currently only seeing a fraction of pre-pandemic usage, leaving transportation agencies looking for solutions to get numbers back up. RIPTA and many other agencies are also facing looming fiscal cliffs when they run out of the federal pandemic funding that has been supporting them.
Members of Rhode Island’s Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee heard a presentation on the R-Line pilot and discussed its impact and these issues at a May 4 meeting.
One attendee who has a mobility disability and uses the R-Line said he didn’t know RIde service was free in the corridor, but he was happy to know that he could now use it. When he uses the route’s fixed-route service, he said it’s frequently packed and he feels like a “burden” when he tries to get on and off.
Another attendee noted she had used to RIde service with her son and on at least one occasion, the driver didn’t know that a ride within the corridor should be free.
RIPTA planner Joelle Kanter noted their concerns.
The committee also discussed whether they believed funding should be siphoned into free programs like the R-Line pilot or service improvements and expansion, with the majority saying that although making the R-Line free had many benefits, they didn’t think RIPTA is financially prepared to make the program permanent after it elapses at the end of August.
Liza Burkin of the Providence Streets Coalition talked about moving to South Providence during the pilot and loving the R-Line fixed route, but with RIPTA’s fiscal cliff looming, she said she doesn’t think the program should be renewed right now.
“It would be high on my list as soon as the fiscal cliff was resolved,” she said. “I don’t think we should backslide in terms of service in order to provide lower fares for folks like me, like I can afford it. And I would happily, happily pay the $2.”
In addition to listening to feedback at the meeting, RIPTA workers spent time through the weekend asking customers about their R-Line experiences.
The fare program will end at the end of August, and RIPTA staff said that there will be advertising to advise riders of the shift back to fares ahead of time.