There are plenty of seats available on trains heading to and from Rhode Island’s commuter-rail stations in Warwick and North Kingstown this fall. Empty parking spaces in the large, new garages next to those stations are also abundant.
Nearly three years after Rhode Island began expanding rail service south of Providence, passenger volume to T.F. Green Airport and Wickford Junction remains light.
The economic slump that reduced demand for office space in downtown Providence also reduced the number of people needing to find a way into the city each day and the congestion that might convince them to take mass transit.
In June, the last month figures were available, Wickford Junction ridership decreased 28 percent, from an average of 201 people each day in June 2012 to 144 people this past June, according to the R.I. Department of Transportation. June 2012 was the second full month of service to Wickford.
At T.F. Green, average daily ridership fell 12 percent year over year, to 184 people in June from 209 people in June 2012.
The falling numbers appear to have jolted state officials into action.
Starting in July and running through the end of this year, DOT stopped charging the $6.75 daily fee to park at the T.F. Green commuter garage and $4 fee at Wickford Junction.
So far, however, the impact of even that significant savings to commuters has been modest.
An average of 75 cars per day parked at the 640-space commuter garage at T.F. Green in August, only three more cars per day than during August 2012, according to DOT.
There was more progress at Wickford Junction, where an average of 80 cars parked in the 1,100-space garage in August, an increase of 40 percent from the 57 average cars parked during the same period in 2012.
It’s likely ridership also has seen at least some spike at Wickford since parking became free, but DOT did not have data to confirm.
“This is still a startup,” said Michael Lewis, director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, about commuter rail south of Providence. “That being said, we would want more people riding. … We would like it to increase more rapidly, and we are going out with an aggressive marketing campaign and incentive programs to shift the mode for people in that part of the state who are used to driving.”