All aboard: Free train service begins as RIDOT seeks to boost ridership

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — On Monday morning, a handful of passengers climbed aboard the train at Wickford Junction but overall, the platform was very quiet.

“It’s easy,” commuter Ross Ruddell said. “It’s better than sitting in traffic on 95 every morning.”

But not everyone thinks like Ruddell, and that’s why the state Department of Transportation (RIDOT) is offering free in-state train rides for the remainder of the year.

RIDOT says it costs $6 million a year to run service from South County to Providence but only about $200,000 is being brought in through fares.

Back in 2015, Target 12 Investigator Tim White learned an average of 391 weekday commuters were riding the train from Wickford Junction, far below the projections laid out by the 2005 South County Commuter Rail Service operations plan, which was used to win support for the $44.7-million station.

The report forecast daily ridership out of Wickford would hit 3,386 by 2020 so in order to meet those projections, ridership needed to increase by 776%.

Earlier this year, Target 12 found out the average weekday ridership out of Wickford during the first three months of 2017 was down to 292 commuters.

In an effort to raise awareness of the train service and increase ridership, service between Providence, T.F. Green Airport in Warwick and Wickford Junction will be free for the next six months.

“It’s going to help us to determine whether the price point has an effect on the ridership,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said.

The campaign will cost about $100,000, according to Alviti, but he said it’s worth it in the long run.

“We expect if we increase ridership, we’ll recover that,” Alviti added.

The free train rides are limited to Rhode Island only and run through Dec. 29.