Providence, Rhode Island, June 11, 2015 – The arrival of warm, muggy weather has prompted the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to call an Air Quality Alert (AQA) for today, Thursday, June 11, 2015. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is announcing that it is no longer offering free rides on these Air Quality Alert days and is launching a new summer program in its place.
RIPTA had planned to announce the new program next week, but with DEM having to make a decision on air quality late Wednesday night, RIPTA is today announcing its new summer program designed to encourage Rhode Islanders to improve air quality by leaving their cars at home and opting for public transportation instead.
Called the “Try Transit Clean Air Challenge,” the program will give Rhode Islanders five, free all day passes this summer if they take part in the challenge which will be in effect for July and August. To participate, people will have to fill out a brief survey on RIPTA.com about their travel habits. (The survey will be available online by July 1, 2015.)
“We’re really excited about this new program because it’s a great introduction to public transportation and hopefully people will see that taking the bus is an easy, convenient and environmentally-friendly alternative to driving,” said Barbara Polichetti, Director of Public Affairs for RIPTA. “Also, we think that this new Clean Air Challenge is an improvement over our former program which offered free rides only on Air Quality Alert days. We know that the free rides were popular, but we had to ask ourselves if they were really changing people’s travel habits,” Polichetti said.
That program, which has been in effect for about 20 years, served its purpose, Polichetti said. It is now time for RIPTA to launch a new, more effective effort to reduce the number of cars, particularly single occupancy vehicles, on the road – especially during the warmer months when air quality is more likely to be a concern.
The new Try Transit Clean Air Challenge is funded by a federal grant under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program (CMAQ) plus a required local match which is being covered by RIPTA.
“Today is an example of one of the problems with the old program of offering free rides on Air Quality Alert Days,” Polichetti said. “Due to weather conditions, AQA days are sometimes called with very little notice and that doesn’t give some people time to change their commuting or travel plans.”
Polichetti noted that the new program is far more proactive since people do not have to wait for an AQA day to try the bus and they can choose when they want to use their free rides. “People can get their five, one-day passes and plan their travel accordingly,” she said. “We think five days will give someone a chance to get familiar with using our system.”
Having participants fill out a survey will allow RIPTA to gather valuable information about people’s travel habits, she added, and this will enable the transit authority to launch other targeted promotions in the future or design a special fare product for air quality purposes.
In Rhode Island, DEM issues Air Quality Alerts on days when air quality is unhealthy due to a high level of particle pollution and/or ozone. DEM issued one Air Quality Alert day last summer and has issued 33 alert days between 2008 and 2014.
Since 1995, RIPTA and DEM have worked together to educate Rhode Islanders about actions they can take to voluntarily reduce emissions on Air Quality Alert days. According to the Federal Transit Administration, switching from driving to riding public transportation is one of the most effect actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint.