Free RIPTA rides on Air Quality Alert Days in jeopardy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has announced that it may not be able to provide free transportation on Air Quality Alert Days this summer.

In the past,  RIPTA gave free rides on its fixed-route buses and trolleys on Air Quality Alert Days.

A letter to Eyewitness News initially stated the program would not continue this summer due to lack of funding. However, RIPTA Chairman Scott Avedisian said the agency is still trying to secure a revenue source.

“We may have jumped the gun a little bit in saying the program is not there,” said Avedisian. “Once there is an Air Quality Alert day, it triggers free bus service and we wanted to make sure that since there’s nothing in place yet that we don’t give people the false hope that that is going to be there.”

Avedisian said RIPTA is traditionally reimbursed $300,000 for the program. Funding comes, in part, from Congestion Mitigation Air Quality and then matched by state funds.

“All of the agencies are looking at it and saying ‘Is this the most effective way to talk about air quality alert days?’ Is there a different way of doing it where we can provide an even better service for less money,” Avedisian said. “Are we getting the desired effect of people not taking their car to work or are we creating free ridership to go to other locations?”

If funding is not secured, all passengers would be required to pay the $2 one-way fare or use their pre-purchased RIPTA fare product on AQA days.

The Air Quality Alert Program issues alerts on days when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels due to elevated levels of fine particle pollutants as well as on days when ozone levels are unhealthy.

The Department of Environmental Management will continue to issue the alert so that people can take appropriate measures to protect their health.

Residents are still being encouraged to use public transportation on these days to improve air quality.

The Air Quality Alert Program has been operating year-round since it replaced the seasonal Ozone Alert Program in 2007.

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