RIPTA launches free bus service out of Central Falls

THE RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC TRANSIT AUTHORITY began a year-long program Monday offering free bus service to riders out of Central Falls.

CENTRAL FALLS – Public transit riders out of Central Falls can take the bus for free under a state pilot program that started Monday.

Gov. Daniel J. McKee joined with other state, local and federal officials in a press conference to announce the debut of the “Ride Free in Central Falls” program. The year-long effort, funded mostly through a federal grant, will offer free rides on Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses to riders who start their trips out of Central Falls.

The program uses geofencing technology to create a virtual ring around the city of Central Falls, identifying when passengers board a RIPTA bus from within that boundary and waiving their bus fare.

“Access to public transportation makes it easier for riders to access employment, educational opportunities and health care. That access translates into a stronger local economy which is good for all Rhode Islanders,” McKee said in a statement.

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RIPTA was one of 25 recipients nationwide to receive funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s Accelerating Innovative Mobility initiative, which aims to use technology to improve public transportation services. The $244,000 federal grant, in combination with contributions from the city of Central Falls and RIPTA, paid for the software used to create the program as well as lost revenue from passenger fare, according to a press release.

Central Falls was chosen to test the technology because of its small area and high population density. The free service may also help boost ridership among city residents.

“We have many residents in our city that rely on public transportation, and I hope to see this RIPTA pilot program help ease the financial cost for our community relying on the bus daily,” Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera said in a statement. “With easy access to RIPTA routes and now free starting rides in our city, I hope this also inspires other residents to take public transportation who don’t normally utilize RIPTA.”

RIPTA will study the use and effectiveness of the program during the one-year pilot to help “shape future policy and program initiatives,” the release stated. 

Legislation introduced in the R.I. General Assembly by Sen. Meghan Kallman and Rep. Leonela Felix, both Pawtucket Democrats, aims to make RIPTA free statewide. A similar proposal was introduced but failed to pass in the 2021 legislative session.

Under the pilot program, riders must start their trips within Central Falls to qualify for free fare, and must use RIPTA’s Wave smart card or mobile app when boarding. RIPTA usually charges $2 fare for each boarding, although there are multi-use passes and discounts available. 

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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