STATE HOUSE – As a regular RIPTA rider, Senator Meghan Kallman has a lot to say about public transportation.
“The bus is so great,” said Senator Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, Providence). “I can get work done, I can read or I can put my headphones in and relax. Or if I’m feeling social, I can talk to my neighbors, catch up on how they’re doing.”
She and advocates from around the state have a vision for an even stronger public transportation system. They envision light rail service, free bus fare for all, and bike lanes to improve safety.
“If you think about the great cities of the world, one thing they all have in common is a strong, easy to use public transportation system,” said Pat Crowley, Secretary Treasurer of the RI AFL-CIO and co-chair of Climate Jobs Rhode Island. “Good public transit reduces traffic, improves air quality and just brings vibrancy and community. We can build that here and make Rhode Island more attractive to top talent and companies.”
Senator Kallman has introduced two bills to further this goal. The first (2023 S-0059) would levy a tax on ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft of $0.75 per ride to fund the state’s transit master plan. Currently ride share services pay only the 7% sales tax while traditional taxis have much higher costs. The master plan, called Transit Forward 2040, envisions comprehensive improvements to public transit the way Rhode Works updated the state’s road and bridge infrastructure.
The second bill (2023-S 0234) would make RIPTA free for all riders. A pilot program last year made the state’s busiest bus line, the R-line between Providence and Pawtucket, free. Ridership has expanded and advocates say the results have been very positive. Washington DC made bus fare free last year and Boston, Denver and the state of Connecticut are considering similar programs.
“Brown and RISD provide free bus passes to all their employees because they recognize how valuable this is to building community,” Crowley said. “We should do this for everyone.”
Even for those who don’t take the bus, Senator Kallman says, expanding public transit will be a benefit.
“I totally get not everyone can take the bus,” she said. “If you have kids you need to drop at daycare before work or need to make multiple stops, maybe the bus isn’t for you right now. But you’ll benefit from less traffic, cleaner air and a more vibrant community. You’ll benefit from a stronger economy when Rhode Island is the kind of place people want to live, work and play.”
The bills come as some, including Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), have called on RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian to resign, citing a lack of vision and the no-bid contract to the law firm of former Cranston Mayor Alan Fung.
“Now is the time to go big,” said Senator Kallman. “With bold vision, strong leadership and support from the legislature, we can build a world-class public transportation system to bring jobs and quality of life to our state.”