Regular RIPTA User Sees Room for Improvement
September 25, 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.
PROVIDENCE — Barbara Henry sat in the lobby of a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority building on Elmwood Avenue, waiting for an Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee meeting to begin.
The committee, which meets once a month, discusses all the ways that RIPTA could improve service for people with disabilities.
Henry, who has been blind since birth, spoke at the meeting and with ecoRI News about problems with RIPTA — for those with mobility issues, older adults, and people who are low-income.
Henry knows firsthand how the world isn’t tailored to everyone’s needs. She and her 23-year-old son Justin, who is autistic, rely on RIPTA to get around, said Henry, who works as a caregiver and lives in Providence.
“We both need public transportation to just do everything,” said Henry, who still retained some of her New York accent when describing her RIPTA experience. Although she has lived in Rhode Island for 20 years, Henry is originally from a city that arguably has one of the best public transit systems in the country.
Transit in Rhode Island is a little tougher, she admitted to ecoRI News. The New York City subway took her most of the places she needed to go, she said. In the Ocean State, she relies more on RIde, RIPTA’s paratransit service for people with disabilities.
She often uses a combination of RIde and fixed-route bus service, and particularly likes the R-Line because RIde is currently free within the corridor around the route (which is also free until the end of the month).
“It’s a wonderful program, and it should stay free, to be honest with you,” she said.
In addition to the R-Line, Henry appreciates the bus drivers who go the extra mile. For example, when she brings her cart to and from the grocery store on the bus, some drivers will automatically get the wheelchair lift going for her, so that she can get on and off more easily.
Although she wishes RIPTA service could be expanded and improved, an unexpected benefit of delays and less frequent service is the opportunity to make a community. Coming from New York, Henry said she has noticed that Rhode Island is a friendlier state. And when folks have to wait extended periods of time for the bus, they make conversation with each other and her.
She also loves the beach and said she wishes the beach bus could be expanded so that she could go more frequently.
Henry said she would also like more bus shelters, because she must wait outside for the bus, regardless of the weather.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, we should have dignity and respect to at least have a bench to wait for the bus,” she said.