By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — A new bus fare set to be passed by the General Assembly is a serious blow to disabled and senior riders, according to the bus advocacy group RIPTA Riders Alliance. Public transportation advocates says instituting a fee for what once was free will keep disadvantaged riders stuck in their homes.
“These low-income seniors and disabled people will be left in further isolation, and isolation increases feelings of depression and other medical problems,” Don Rhodes, president of the RIPTA Riders Alliance, wrote in a June 8 statement.
Federal law requires that all seniors and disabled people be charged no more than half the full bus fare, but only during off-peak hours. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is one of the few bus systems in the United States to use a means-tested, income-based approach for fare pricing, which currently allows it to offer free bus passes that can be used during peak and off-peak times.
In order to address its budget shortfall, however, RIPTA recently instituted the new 50-cent fare. The fare was included in the fiscal 2017 state budget, which the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on June 15. The new system eliminates free passes and discounts on weekly and monthly passes. RIPTA Riders Alliance says low-income and disabled people prefer monthly passes to feeding the toll box for each trip. In order for the $70 monthly pass save them money, disadvantaged riders would need to take 140 bus trips each month.
“And nobody does that,” said Randall Rose, a RIPTA Riders Alliance member. Thus, the new fare and the uneconomical bus pass is “kind of a double-blow to senior and disabled people,” he added.
By charging fares, some 13,000 low-income riders and seniors will likely have to reduce their trips for shopping, visiting friends and relatives, and other trips, Rhodes said. He estimated that $800,000 in the state budget would have covered the cost of the new rates. The new fares take effect Jan. 1.
“It would be a travesty for the General Assembly to go home on vacation without addressing this problem, leaving the fare hike to take effect at the beginning of next year,” Rhodes said.