RIPTA Board Unanimously Approves Phase Two of Low-Income Free-Fare Program
October 26, 2023
PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority extended a pilot program that offers free bus passes to low-income riders and those experiencing homelessness at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
At its September meeting, the board had agreed to extend the program by a month so RIPTA staff could come up with a plan to keep the program going more sustainably.
Sarah Ingle, RIPTA’s long-range planning manager, said the program would continue, as is, until Jan. 31. On Feb. 1, the authority’s partner agencies, which had prequalified free bus pass recipients for the program, would start managing the passes they were allotted. This would allow them to reissue passes that were going unused to clients that needed them, Ingle explained, “becoming more of a case management approach.”
Starting May 1, those agencies, which include nonprofits such as Mathewson Street United Methodist Church and Crossroads Rhode Island, would also assume responsibility for the cost of the passes but at a discounted rate.
Between now and May, RIPTA would “roll up their sleeves” and help those partner agencies apply for grant funding to supplement the new cost on their end, Ingle said.
“I think your proposal makes a lot of sense,” Michelle Wilcox, RIPTA board member and president of Crossroad Rhode Island, said at the Oct. 25 meeting. She noted the passes her organization received increased the number of people they could offer bus service to.
Fellow board member Normand Benoit expressed concern about passing the baton to the agencies in February, when it will still be cold in Rhode Island, and letting it “slip.”
“The partner agencies know their clients and they do a better job managing them than we do,” said Nathan Hannon, RIPTA’s customer service operations administrator, adding that trying this new approach would likely benefit the program.
Over the course of the pilot, the number of active users declined, but by passing the management of the passes to the agencies, it could shift unused passes to those who need them.
Since the program started, RIPTA has issued 775 passes through its partners, resulting in 125,000 trips total taken using the free cards, with most service concentrated in the Providence metro area, according to Ingle.
RIPTA lost about $250,000 in forgone revenue because of the program thus far, she said, and may forgo about $257,000 as it continues.
Department of Transportation director Peter Alviti, RIPTA’s board’s chair, asked the staff how that revenue could be made up, and ultimately asked for updates on the revenue issue while the pilot continues.
The board voted unanimously to approve the new phase.
The next RIPTA board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 29.
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