PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state’s public transportation system this week released a report showing expanding Rhode Island’s paratransit system could add over $6 million to its operating budget, a cost one lawmakers argues is worth it.
The R.I. Public Transit Authority released the 32-page report on Monday in response to a directive from the General Assembly to study the issue last June.
The report examines what it would take to expand the paratransit system — known as RIde — for seniors and people with disabilities, as there are currently eight municipalities where the system doesn’t reach.
“Your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your trajectory in life,” said Chris Bove, who is legally blind has been advocating for improvements to the system and expansion into all 39 cities and towns.
“It should not impact the opportunities that you have,” he added.
In addition to the eight municipalities where the system doesn’t reach, there are several others that only have partial accessibility, according to the report. Only six cities and towns have full accessibility.
As part of the report, RIPTA looked at how much it would cost the expand the system, concluding that expansion along with extended days and evening plans across the state would add $6.4 million to the quasi-public agency’s annual operating budget.
To make up for the additional routes and times, the study also estimated there’d be an additional one-time capital and startup cost for training and new vehicles totaling $4.2 million.
R.I. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Louis DiPalma told Target 12 he was happy the study had been completed, as he was one of the lawmakers pushing for the issue to be examined.
He was also bullish that the public transit system could expand the changes, although he warned it may not be possible all at once.
“It may not be the case that is incremental,” he said. “We could do it in phases.”
Whether RIPTA agrees is unclear. It did not take a position in the report and it highlighted other challenges other than increased costs, including statewide staffing and vehicle shortages that already exist.
Despite those challenges, Bove argued implementing a statewide paratransit system could change lives for those who relied on on it to get around and live their lives.
“It will allow people to not only have that independence, but to go out and work for the first time, or to get that job that pays just a bit more in salary,” Bove said.