Free rides offered at Wickford Junction train station as usage lags forecast

(Bill Tomison, WPRI-TV)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Ridership out of the train station at Wickford Junction in North Kingstown remains far below the projections used to secure millions in public funding for the station and adjacent parking garage, according to new data from the R.I. Department of Transportation.

The latest ridership numbers show the average weekday ridership out of the station – which opened in April 2012 – was just 292 commuters during the three months ended March 31.

That number is dramatically lower than the projection in a 2005 South County Commuter Rail Service operations plan, which estimated Wickford Junction would have 3,386 daily weekday riders by 2020. The operations plan was used to win support for the $44.7 million train station.

A recent quarterly report from RIDOT stated Wickford’s ridership ranks 110th out of 133 MBTA stations outside of Boston. However, it also shows parking at the garage has been on the rise: an average of 213 vehicles parked at Wickford on weekdays during 2014, up from just 87 in 2014.

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti is now hoping the state can boost usage of the Wickford station through a unique incentive: making it free.

He said use of RIDOT’s “Trains to Planes” initiative – which provided free train rides to Quonset for the annual air show – was up from last year. The agency said 4,271 used the train for the air show, while about 3,800 took advantage of the service last year. RIDOT is asking riders who used the service to fill out a survey to help officials plan for next year.

“It brought some awareness to the existence of the train system here in Rhode Island to many people who don’t traditionally use that mode of transportation,” Alviti said. “We look forward in the next few months to increase that awareness by offering the free fare for a six-month period to and from Wickford station and Providence.”

RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said all fares between Wickford and Providence, in either direction, will be free for six months starting July 3. If a rider wants to take the train from Wickford to Boston, for example, the cost of the trip will be reduced to what the fare would be from Providence to Boston.

Two years ago, a Target 12 investigation reported on the lagging ridership out of the station, showing the projection for 2020 had been commissioned from consultants back in 1995 but never got revised over the subsequent two decades.

That projection was used to help secure millions of dollars in federal funding to build Wickford Junction, which includes a four-story, 1,100-space parking garage.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect description of Wickford Junction’s location and corrects the number of people that used the service for the 2016 air show.