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6/22/2017 Senate approves legislation to restore RIPTA fare-free bus passes for low-income seniors and disabled
A Senate priority, the program is included in the FY 2018 budget
STATE HOUSE — The Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts to restore free bus passes for low-income seniors and disabled individuals. Restoration of the funds, a Senate priority, is included in the budget currently under consideration by the General Assembly.

Senators Harold M. Metts and Elizabeth A. Crowley had submitted legislation requiring reinstatement of the program at the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, and President Dominick J. Ruggerio made it a priority during budget negotiations with the House and the Governor’s office.

The budget provides RIPTA with $5 million in Rhode Island Highway Maintenance Funds in both FY2018 and FY 2019 to fund the free bus pass program. In addition, the budget establishes a coordinating council to develop recommendations for the sustainable funding of the program in future years.

The Metts legislation, 2017-S-115, passed the Senate unanimously this afternoon.

“The Senate is very grateful to Governor Raimondo for recognizing the importance of this issue to Rhode Island seniors and disabled. Her work, along with the Office of Management and Budget, ensures that RIPTA can better meet the needs of all Rhode Islanders,” said President Ruggerio. “We are thankful for the support of Speaker Mattiello, who has also been supportive of restoration of the funds throughout the process.”

Senator Metts said, “The service provided by RIPTA is critical for the wellbeing of those who rely on the no-fare system. Riders may need the service to reach a doctor’s appointment, a low-wage job, a meal program, or the home of a family member. The inability to utilize RIPTA is leaving individuals feeling isolated, and loneliness impacts their emotional and physical health.”

As of February 1, 2017, RIPTA no longer offered free rides to the low-income elderly and disabled population, and a reduced fare of 50 centers per boarding and 25 cents per transfer was implemented.

Senator Crowley, who introduced similar legislation, 2017-S-31, said, “For someone living on a small, fixed income, those fares and transfer fees really add up, especially when you consider that they need to pay in each direction and may have to travel several times a week to reach medical appointments. The folks we’re talking about may make $600 a month or less, and these fares are having a significant impact on them.”

In February, the Department of Elderly Affairs and the Department of Veterans Affairs began purchasing and distributing a limited number of ten-ride passes for their respective low-income populations. The Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals began a similar targeted-fare program in April for community mental health center clients.

With reinstatement of the free-fare program, agencies will no longer purchase ten-ride passes. RIPTA can transition to the free-fare program very quickly. July 1, 2017, the start of the next fiscal year, will serve as the start date of the no-fare program. Currently, those eligible for free-fares have a “reduced fare” card. RIPTA can reprogram these existing cards to serve as “no fare” passes.

Co-sponsors of the Metts legislation include Senators Metts, Ana B. Quezada (D – Dist. 2, Providence), Crowley, Paul V. Jabour (D – Dist. 5, Providence) and Maryellen Goodwin (D – Dist. 1, Providence). Co-sponsors of the Crowley bill are Senators Quezada, Jabour, Erin Lynch Prata (D – Dist. 31, Warwick) and William J. Conley, Jr. (D – Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket). 

For more information, contact:
Greg Pare, Press Secretary for the Senate
State House Room 314
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 276-5558