RIPTA fare-free programme increases R-Line ridership by 40%

Posted: 31 March 2023 | | No comments yet

The first six months of RIPTA’s year-long programme has seen ridership on the R-Line increase by 40% compared to the previous year, and has brought forth a range of other benefits for both passengers and the operating company.

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The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) has announced results from the first six months of the R-Line Fare-Free Pilot Program. From September 2022 through to February 2023, ridership on the R-Line was 40% higher than a year ago.

“As RIPTA continues to explore innovative strategies to increase ridership lost during the pandemic, the R-Line pilot programme will provide us with important data and feedback from our riders and drivers,” said Scott Avedisian, CEO of RIPTA. “The first half of the programme has shown that, when we invest in our transit system, positive results follow. The popular R-Line service, free-fare pilot and other elements of our Transit Master Plan will contribute to building a world-class transit system that serves all Rhode Islanders.”

The R-Line is RIPTA’s most frequent and highest ridership route. In August 2022, the R-Line carried an average of about 5,400 passenger trips each weekday, or 16% of RIPTA’s statewide bus ridership. The Fare-Free Pilot Program was introduced by the General Assembly, which allocated $2.5 million for the one-year pilot that began on 1 September 2022. The funds will replace lost R-Line fare revenue and will be used to study the overall costs and benefits of fare-free service to inform future decision-making around fares. 

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RIPTA has also engaged with riders and employees as part of the study to better understand their experience and insights.

RIPTA drivers reported that driving is easier and boarding passengers is faster without having to collect fares. However, there have been reports of increased boarding times, as some people now see the R-Line as a “hop-on, hop-off” service and try to board buses in-between stops. This type of activity, along with more people riding, may offset time saved by removing fare payment.

In addition, RIPTA has seen revenue impacts. If R-Line riders had been paying the $2 bus fare during the pilot, RIPTA would have earned about $400,000 each month, or the annual equivalent of almost 5% of the entire RIPTA fixed-route bus operating budget. Also contributing to these impacts is an increase in paratransit ridership* in the R-Line zone at a rate two times greater than the systemwide rate, or by about 240 more trips per month.

The R-Line Fare-Free Pilot Program will continue through to August 2023. During this period, the study team will continue to collect data and will prepare for a second survey on rider travel behavior changes. Surveys will be administered on-board and online over several days in Spring 2023, and RIPTA will seek input from community organisations and businesses along the R-Line. Riders will also have the opportunity to provide feedback at pop-up tables at stops along the R-Line. These results, along with an evaluation of fare-free programmes by other agencies in the region and nationwide, will continue to paint a picture of the Fare-Free Pilot Program and inform RIPTA’s decision-making.

*The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) assures that people with disabilities, who cannot use the regular fixed-route bus, have access to public transportation. RIPTA’s RIde paratransit programme is designed to meet these requirements by providing service within a ¾-mile corridor along each fixed-route.