The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) announced today that the program that provides free bus service on Air Quality Alert Days (AQA) will remain in effect for this year. RIPTA and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) had previously announced that free RIPTA service would no longer be available on Air Quality Alert Days, formerly known as Ozone Alert Days, due to limited funding. The Attorney General’s Office is providing $50,000 to help support the program for Summer 2014. DEM issues Air Quality Alerts on days when air quality is unhealthy due to a high level of particle pollution and/or ozone.
“Rhode Islanders have come to expect and enjoy free RIPTA rides on Ozone Alert Days. It is a terrific way to showcase the benefits of public transportation to potential new riders by encouraging commuters to leave their cars at home and hop on RIPTA while not adding harmful emissions to our atmosphere,” said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.
The funding provided by Attorney General Kilmartin is part of a 2007 Consent Decree resulting from a lawsuit brought by Rhode Island, other states, and the federal government against American Electric Power Service Corporation (AEP). In previous years, these court-ordered monies have been allocated to reduce state energy costs and harmful air pollution through the installation of upgraded pollution control devices on state-owned heavy equipment, installation of wind turbines at Fishermen’s Memorial State Campground and East Matunuck State Beach, as well as funding towards RIPTA’s two–acre solar panel roof project unveiled in November 2013.
In 1995, DEM partnered with RIPTA to create a program that would educate and encourage Rhode Islanders to voluntarily reduce ozone-forming emissions on days when the area is vulnerable to high ozone levels by riding public transportation. In order to properly evaluate program effectiveness, RIPTA will be working closely with its partners including DEM, Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), to analyze the cost and benefits of the program, as well as an evaluation of program alternatives.
“When DEM issues health alerts because air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels, RIPTA has historically provided free bus service in an effort to reduce air pollutant emissions by reducing the number of cars on the road,” said RIPTA CEO Raymond Studley. “As Rhode Island’s air quality continues to be impacted by the use of cars on our roads and highways, it is imperative that we use these funds in a way that reduces auto trips and encourages more Rhode Islanders to consider RIPTA.”
Air Quality Alert Days
Each summer, the program has raised awareness of ozone air pollution by publicizing “Ozone Alert Days” when extra-high concentrations of ground-level ozone were predicted. DEM issued one hundred five (105) Ozone Alerts from 1995-2006.
In 2007, RIPTA and DEM replaced the seasonal Ozone Alert Program with a year-round Air Quality Alert Program. Unlike the Ozone Alert Program, the Air Quality Alert Program (AQA) includes alerts on days when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels due to elevated levels of fine particle pollutants as well as on days when ozone levels are unhealthy. The program provides free transportation on all RIPTA’s fixed-route buses and trolleys on days identified by the DEM as “Air Quality Alert Days.” Thirty-five (35) Air Quality Alerts were issued from 2007 to 2013.
RIPTA is reimbursed for rides on AQA Days through a project that is funded as part of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program in the state’s Transportation Improvement program. The US Department of Transportation (DOT), in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration, makes these funds available for projects that reduce congestion on the highways or reduce emissions of air pollutants from transportation-related activities. Local match is required to use these federal funds.
“In Rhode Island, cars and trucks are responsible for more than 40% of emissions of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to unhealthy air quality. Therefore, programs that increase public transit ridership and reduce car traffic help to improve the State’s air quality and let us all breathe easier,” said Director of DEM Janet Coit.
Rhode Islanders are encouraged to continue to utilize RIPTA every day, not just on AQA Days when rides are free. When you ride RIPTA, you are actively doing something positive to improve air quality in our state.
About the AEP Settlement
The $50,000 is part of a 2007 Consent Decree resulting from a lawsuit brought by Rhode Island, other states, and the federal government against American Electric Power Service Corporation (AEP). Rhode Island and the other plaintiffs alleged that AEP constructed and modified numerous power plants in the Ohio River valley without the permits required under the Clean Air Act, causing increased smog in Rhode Island and other states. Under the Consent Decree, as recently reopened and amended, AEP paid a $15 million penalty and committed $65 million to perform or finance pro-environmental projects, of which approximately $30 million was distributed to eight states to fund pollution reduction, renewable energy, green building, and other environmental projects. Rhode Island’s portion of the original settlement was approximately $1.2 million, distributed through five annual installments of $240,000, with an additional $714,000 provided as part the 2013 amendment.
For information on RIPTA services, passengers may call 781-9400 or visit ripta.com.