Proposed RIPTA Service Cuts Will Test How Far One Man’s Homemade E-Bike Can Go


Bob Walker prefers to ride his homemade e-bike whenever possible, but sometimes he needs to take the bus. (Courtesy photo)

EAST GREENWICH, R.I. — When the weather is bad or he’s feeling under the weather, Bob Walker tends to take the bus.

Walker doesn’t drive. He got his learner’s permit when he was a teenager and tooled around in a little Volkswagen Bug.

“I never actually took the test,” he told ecoRI News. “I never really wanted to drive all that much. They’re a necessary evil in my book. They make life incredibly comfortable, but they’re destroying our planet. And that’s sad. That’s sad as heck.”

Although he gets free fare on Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses because he has a disability, he often gets around on e-bikes he has built himself. Since COVID, he has rigged his own cargo bikes to carry his groceries and personal effects while he travels around.

Still, the bus pass comes in handy when winter hits hardest, like it did earlier this month with slush and snow, or when he physically can’t ride, like when he broke his wrist after a recent spill on his bike.

The bus keeps him connected to his community, whether that’s volunteering at his church or heading to the Hillsgrove Clubhouse.

“I have to keep socially active with my condition — mental health condition,” Walker said. “It’s not good to dwell or isolate and that’s where the bus comes in. I really, really need the bus on certain days.”

Walker talked about the necessity of public transit at a hearing in West Warwick last month. He testified against proposed services cuts RIPTA plans to implement this spring because of an on-going driver shortage.

RIPTA employees have said the service would be restored as soon as more drivers (about 20 positions) are filled. The agency’s board recently voted to increase wages for drivers, from $21.71 an hour to $25.33, but it is unclear how higher hourly rates will impact hiring.

RIPTA’s board still needs to vote on the proposed service changes but hasn’t scheduled a meeting to do so.

Part of the 16 route, which Walker frequently takes, is on the chopping block.

Admittedly, Walker was concerned when the line first started that it wouldn’t last long. In the beginning, he was often the only one taking the route, but over time, he started to see ridership grow and rode alongside other folks who depended on the bus to get around.

The line takes him to Market Basket and Trader Joe’s, the grocery stores that he likes and can afford.

“Just shopping there would save me typically 600, 700 [dollars] a year,” he said, “which is about half of a check for me, half of a monthly income.”

But if RIPTA discontinues the segment of line 16 that runs from New England Tech to Quonset, that cost-saving routine will become a lot more difficult.

For now, in good weather, he can still bike there.

“I don’t know how much longer I can, that my body can sustain the e-biking,” Walker said. “I’m pushing 63, so it’s not getting easier.”


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  1. The legislature needs to fullyn fund RIPTA and the Transit master plan. We need to eliminate cars permanently. I stopped driving in 1976

  2. An encouragement to Bob Walker: I’m 74, and I’m still riding my push-pedal bike (not an e-bike) as much as I can, in spite of a broken clavicle (when a truck decided he didn’t really need to come to a full stop at that sign, and hit me) and a damaged knee (from tripping on a Pawtucket sidewalk). But yes! the bus is a necessary backup and we NEED them.

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