Senior, disabled RIPTA riders urge Governor to save free fare program
By: Rebecca Turco
WOONSOCKET, R.I. – Numerous RIPTA riders and advocates joined together Tuesday, speaking out about upcoming fare hikes for the low-income seniors and those with disabilities.
These people are pleading to the governor to sign off on the state funding necessary to preserve RIPTA’s free fare program. That program has provided free rides for an estimated 13,000 low-income seniors and the disabled for decades, according to the RI Organizing Project.
"Raising the fares for the poorest people in Rhode Island is short-term gain, but long-term pain because it will mean isolation, it will mean depression, [and] it will mean food insecurity," explained Marjorie Waters with the RI Organizing Project.
Under RIPTA's new reduced fare program, disabled and elderly riders will pay 50 cents a trip (a fraction of the $2 fare) and 25 cents per transfer.
"Everybody thinks that 50 cents isn't a big deal,” said RIPTA rider Warren Charron of Woonsocket. “It is a big deal when you're struggling."
Charron used to be homeless. He credits his free RIPTA rides with helping him get back on his feet.
RIPTA Spokesperson Barbara Polichetti tells ABC6 News the free fare program would not be sustainable without more state funding. Riders with free passes took 5.7 million trips last year, equating to one in every four passengers during peak hours, according to Polichetti.
“We would support sustainable state funding for this program,” she said. “We are very aware of the importance of public transportation to all people – particularly to people who are financially vulnerable – and we are very sympathetic to these needs. The question is not whether this transit program is needed, but rather how we as a state want to provide this assistance.”
RIPTA’s current budget anticipates the introduction of the 50-cent fare will generate about $3.3 million in revenue, of which $1.9 million is anticipated as reimbursement for travel to Medicaid-covered appointments.
The reduced fare program starts February 1, but opponents don’t plan on braking their fight. "Don't penny pinch from the disabled and the elderly,” cried out RIPTA rider Rita Brissette of Woonsocket. “We don't have that dollar to give you. We don't have it."
The governor sent ABC6 News a statement in response to Tuesday’s rally: “When it comes to our most vulnerable riders of public transit, we must make sure we are weighing all options because mobility is an important part of being able to live independently. I am committed to continuing our work to find a solution that balances the needs of these riders with RIPTA's fiscal constraints.”