Over 300 people turned out for SAC’s Legislative Forum on Senior Issues on April 10 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Executive Director Bill Flynn gave an overview of the biggest issues facing older Rhode Islanders who overwhelmingly wish to age in the community. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggiero pledged their commitment to this population and voiced their support for the No Fare Bus Pass Program.
The Senior Agenda Coalition was profoundly disappointed by the Raimondo Administration’s decision to eliminate the No Fare Bus Pass Program that serves about 9,200 low-income Rhode Islanders living with disabilities and 4,000 low-income senior Rhode Islanders. In place of that program, the Governor has instituted an inadequate “pilot program” of 10 one-way free passes per month for about 2,000 seniors. RIPTA data show that about 4,000 seniors used no-fare passes and averaged 29 one-way trips monthly. Amazingly, this “pilot” program contained no alternate plan for the 9,200 persons living with disabilities who used the No-Fare passes.
For the past year and a half the Senior Agenda Coalition worked to preserve the No-Fare passes in concert with the RI Organizing Project, RI Coalition for the Homeless, RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, RIPTA Riders Alliance, Economic Progress Institute and Mental Health Recovery Coalition. Our groups turned out hundreds of No-Fare riders to tell their compelling stories at RIPTA Board Meetings, legislative hearings, and public rallies. We won several victories. In the fall of 2015 Governor Raimondo added $900,000 to RIPTA’s budget for 2016, persuaded its Board of Directors to reduce the No-Fare replacement fare from one dollar to fifty cents and to delay implementing it until January 2017. Most recently, we generated over 2,000 postcards to the Governor asking her to provide additional funds to preserve No-Fare passes in 2017 until a permanent funding source could be found.
In the end, RIPTA eliminated the No-Fare bus pass program on February 1, in spite of a growing body of research-based evidence that long-term isolation is the greatest single risk factor negatively affecting seniors’ health and longevity. Even the Providence Journal Editorial Board got it, penning an editorial entitled “RIPTA cut seems foolish.” We will continue the fight to restore the No-Fare Bus Passes. There is too much at stake for thousands of extremely vulnerable people. Although over 2,000 postcards and hundreds of phone calls to the Governor have not achieved that yet, we thank everyone who expressed that support. We will turn our efforts now to the General Assembly to restore the legislative mandate for no-fare passes that worked very well for forty years.
Friday, May 5, 2017, 12:00 PM
Providence Marriott Downtown Hotel One Orms Street, Providence