Should RIPTA Service Be Free?

Hop on, hop off. The key word here is ‘service.’ Public transportation is not a business and it never could be. Should city buses try to charge enough money to cover expenses, they would be empty in a day. Other cities are trying something different, for instance, Boston, where the new mayor has already kicked off phase one of her fare-free public transportation plan. From the ProJo:

Experiments are underway in small to midsize cities like Albuquerque and Kansas City, and larger metro areas like Los Angeles are considering following suit.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who was elected in November, made fare-free public transportation a major part of her campaign platform.

Happily, here in Rhode Island, making RIPTA service free for all riders (across the state) is exactly the idea behind new legislation introduced by state Sen. Meghan Kallman and Rep. Leonela Felix. Hooray for women thinking outside the box.

We have been here before, in a way. Back in 1998, the toll on the Mt. Hope Bridge was discontinued after calculations indicated that the toll was not high enough to cover the cost of collecting it. And for a while (thanks E-ZPass) there were no tolls collected on the bridge because the state was spending more money to collect and process the money than it was earning from the tolls.

So when assessing the cost of this new RIPTA proposal don’t forget that we would no longer have to purchase and maintain the coin machines, pay for a cohort of employees to collect and process the money. Then there’s the bookkeeping and cost of the current fare collection system, Wave. And the whole bus system would zip more speedily along.

Improved ridership would reduce the use of cars, easing the parking situation and reducing pollution.

All the benefits of an efficient, speedy public transit system may not be readily quantifiable, but businesses looking to locate here would probably find it very attractive and the sign of a state thinking outside the box.


2 thoughts on “Should RIPTA Service Be Free?”

  1. Rhode Island is small enough that we could create a comprehensive public transit system. Seriously, there shouldn’t be a place in Rhode Island that you can’t get to easily by bus.
    It’s remarkable how many places the buses don’t go. Notably many parks and beaches. And the Sunday/holiday schedules are far too limited.
    For more people to want to use RIPTA, they have to be able to get where they’re going, and feel secure in getting there safely. That’s not a dig at bus riders necessarily. We need the infrastructure to support buses in and out of the cities.

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