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Governor McKee, Federal and State Officials  Join RIPTA and City of Central Falls In Launching Free Transit Pilot Program Using Innovative Technology

March 7, 2022

Press Releases

Year-Long “Ride Free in Central Falls” Pilot Program Will Test the Effectiveness of Geofencing Technology in Targeted Public Transportation Promotions

Governor Daniel J. McKee, Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera joined the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) today to announce the launch of a pilot program that will test the effectiveness of using technology to promote the use of public transportation.

Under the “Ride Free in Central Falls” pilot program, RIPTA will use software to create a geofence – or virtual boundary – around the City of Central Falls. That software will communicate with RIPTA’s Wave smart fare technology. The software will be able to identify when a passenger is boarding in Central Falls with a Wave smart card or mobile app and automatically know to waive the fare. The “Ride Free in Central Falls” pilot will offer free fare for only those trips starting in Central Falls. Trips originating outside of Central Falls are required to pay the full fare.

RIPTA was one of 25 recipients nationwide to receive grant funding under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) “Accelerating Innovative Mobility” (AIM) initiative. The goal of the federal initiative is to support the use of state-of-the-art technologies to improve transit services and transportation options for the public. 

“RIPTA is grateful for the consistent support we receive from our congressional delegation and elected officials. I would like to thank Mayor Maria Rivera for her tremendous support of this pilot program. And my thanks to Mayor James Diossa for his leadership in starting this program,” said Scott Avedisian, RIPTA CEO. “RIPTA is pleased to partner with Central Falls to test this new and evolving technology. We are excited to be able to offer free fares with Wave in Central Falls as part of this pilot. This program will field test technology that will have many uses for us and the statistical information we collect from this pilot will help us make informed decisions about future innovative services that are beneficial to our passengers.” 

“Access to public transportation makes it easier for riders to access employment, educational opportunities and health care. That access translates into a stronger local economy which is good for all Rhode Islanders,” said Governor McKee. “This program will provide beneficial free fares to passengers in the densely populated City of Central Falls, while serving as a pilot to help RIPTA make informed decisions on future services statewide. I am thankful for the support of our entire Congressional Delegation for securing federal funds to provide this option in Central Falls, and look forward to the benefits it will provide for residents.”

“Free access to RIPTA will be a game changer to many Central Falls’ residents who rely on public transportation for daily essential activities,” said Rhode Island Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. “I am eager to learn what data results of this pilot and how it can be used to make public transportation more equitable and accessible.”

“It is exciting to see RIPTA launch this program in Central Falls. Other places that have tried fare-free bus service saw more riders, more reliable service, and most importantly savings for the families that rely on public transit to get to work and school every day,” said Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea. “I am hopeful that we will see similar results here that we can use as a foundation for transforming how we get around in our state.” 

“I helped steer $244,000 in federal funding to this initiative to improve our bus system.  This program lets RIPTA use GPS technology to offer free transit rides for passengers who use fare cards and board at designated stops.  The free rides benefit customers and the ridership data better informs future transit policy, both in Rhode Island and nationally, with the goal of promoting targeted, effective ridership and economic development strategies.  So this is a win-win pilot program that is voluntary and will help RIPTA enhance our transportation network and provide riders with free, efficient service,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee who worked to include these funds in the Fiscal Year 2019 transportation appropriations bill.

“I encourage everyone who lives or works in Central Falls to consider this new federally funded option to ride the bus for free,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  “I’m hopeful this pilot project will help improve our public transit system over the longer term to the benefit of riders and the environment.”

“I’m pleased to see Central Falls being placed at the forefront of such cutting-edge technology, which will help make public transit even more affordable for working families in Central Falls,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “This innovative pilot program will increase employment opportunities by making our communities more accessible, and decrease our carbon footprint, which will help to ensure a cleaner Rhode Island for generations to come.”

“I’m thrilled to help launch the ‘Ride Free in Central Falls’ pilot program,” said Congressman Cicilline. “The Central Falls community, its small businesses and restaurants, and all who rely on public transit will benefit from this innovative program that will also help RIPTA assess how to best use technological advances and improve ridership in the years to come. I was proud to advocate to the Federal Transit Administration in support of RIPTA’s application and look forward to seeing its results.”

“We have many residents in our city that rely on public transportation, and I hope to see this RIPTA pilot program help ease the financial cost for our community relying on the bus daily,” said Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera. “With easy access to RIPTA routes and now free starting rides in our city, I hope this also inspires other residents to take public transportation who don’t normally utilize RIPTA.”

“Reliable and affordable public transportation is so important to the Central Falls community, including many of our families served at Progreso Latino,” said Mario Bueno, Executive Director of Progreso Latino. “Central Falls residents can pick up their RIPTA wave cards to take advantage of this free ride opportunity right at Progreso Latino or one of the other Central Falls community partner locations.”

RIPTA officials noted that Central Falls is an ideal test area because it covers a small geographic area but also has high population density. The pilot program is scheduled to last one year from launch. During this time, RIPTA will monitor the effectiveness of the pilot program closely by conducting surveys, focus groups and analyzing travel trends. The results of this pilot will help RIPTA shape future policy and program initiatives.  

RIPTA received $244,000 to partner with the City of Central Falls to test the effectiveness of using geofencing technology to help create targeted promotional partnerships that would benefit transit and the public.  The City of Central Falls is contributing approximately $50,000 to the project and RIPTA is contributing $11,000.  The project funding includes covering lost fare revenue for RIPTA. 

To participate in the pilot program, Central Falls residents simply have to pick up a RIPTA Wave smart card at no charge or they can download the Wave mobile app, available for both Apple and Android devices. Wave smart cards will be available at the following locations:

  • Central Falls City Hall, 580 Broad St., Central Falls, RI
  • Central Falls Public Library, 205 Central St., Central Falls, RI
  • McKenna Center, 115 Illinois St., Central Falls, RI  
  • Central Falls Housing Authority, 30 Washington St., Central Falls, RI
  • Jenks Park Pediatrics, 577 Broad St., Central Falls, RI 02863
  • Progreso Latino, 626 Broad St., Central Falls, RI
  • RIC Workforce Development Hub, 934 Dexter St., Central Falls, RI
  • Blackstone Valley Neighborhood Health Station, 1000 Broad St., Central Falls, RI

More information is available at RIPTA.com/CentralFalls.

Geofencing uses the GPS (Global Positioning System), cellular networks and other technologies to define a specific area.  It is rapidly becoming a powerful marketing tool worldwide, allowing companies to zero in on their target audiences and also to specify where people are when advertisements show up on computers or mobile devices. 

For RIPTA, geofencing is of interest because it could open the door to targeted marketing partnerships that will increase use of public transportation.  The technology could allow entities such as universities, business associations, or social service agencies to sponsor ridership in specific, limited areas.  For instance, a city’s business district might decide to partner with RIPTA to offer free transportation within a certain area in order to make a retail area more accessible to customers.

Launched in September 2020, Wave gives passengers the option of paying their bus fare with either a reloadable smart card or a new mobile app, and is already being used by thousands of RIPTA customers.  More details, including an instructional video, are available at RIPTA.com/wave.

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