RIPTA’s R-Line Sees Drop in Ridership Following End of Free-Fare Pilot Program
November 13, 2023
PROVIDENCE — Since the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s free-fare pilot on the R-Line ended Sept. 30, ridership decreased by about 24%.
Total passenger boardings dipped from 249,239 in September, when the pilot was still free, to 189,106 in October, according to data provided by RIPTA.
“That’s actually very encouraging,” Rhode Island Transit Riders co-coordinator Amy Glidden told ecoRI News in an email. During the pilot, ridership on the line, which travels between Providence, Pawtucket, and Cranston, increased about 40% from the previous year.
A decrease in ridership less than that pilot boost could suggest a “modal shift,” according to Glidden. “It shows the pilot was a success.”
Grow Smart Rhode Island deputy director John Flaherty noted that fewer boardings post-pilot seemed logical, but also drew attention to the decrease not overshooting the growth of ridership the R-Line saw in its first six months.
RI Transit Riders co-coordinator Patricia Raub suggested the decrease could be due to some riders’ decisions to stop using the R-Line like a “hop-in-hop-off” bus, choosing instead to walk rather than take the bus a single stop now that it isn’t free.
Joe Cole, vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 618, the chapter that represents RIPTA employees, told ecoRI News that some riders traveling between Providence and Pawtucket might be opting to use other lines.
The 1, 72, and 78 lines may be more convenient for riders in those areas and currently cost the same fare as the R-Line, he said. (The current cost to board the R-Line is back to the $2 fixed-route fee.)
RIPTA eliminated R-Line fees after the General Assembly voted to put $2.5 million of COVID relief money toward a yearlong free-fare pilot. Ultimately, the pilot lasted 13 months and exceeded the original budget allocation.
“Given the annual cost of this pilot and RIPTA’s current budget outlook, it is not financially feasible for RIPTA to continue this program indefinitely. RIPTA came to this decision after a thorough analysis of the program,” according to an agency press release about the program ending.
Although RIPTA’s free-fare pilot on the R-Line has ended, the agency’s free-fare program for all rides that start in Central Fall has been extended to the end of the year.