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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Free bus rides return for the elderly and disabled

Tanzi pleased at restoration of no-fare RIPTA pass program

Related imageRep. Teresa Tanzi said she is very pleased that the she and fellow members of the House were able to provide funding in the state budget bill to restore no-fare RIPTA bus passes for elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders.

Since February, elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders who meet income-eligibility requirements have had to pay 50 cents a ride, plus 25 cents for transfers, for rides that were previously free for them.

The budget bill (2017-H 5175Aaa) approved by the House of Representatives provides funds to restore the no-fare passes for two years, at a cost of $5 million per year.

Over this two-year period, the General Assembly is requesting that the administration find a permanent solution so that vulnerable Rhode Island residents will continue to have access to the no-fare passes.

Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), who serves on the House Finance Committee and is chairwoman of its Subcommittee on Human Services, worked behind the scenes to free up funding to ensure the restoration.

She took aim at the state’s contract with a company that provides non-emergency medical transportation for Rhode Islanders through Medicaid.

The contract was expiring, needed to be renegotiated, and she felt the state was not getting its money’s worth, since ridership under the program was dropping and the state was paying many times more per ride than it should.

Through her role as Human Services Subcommittee chairwoman, she prodded those involved to renegotiate the contract, which yielded a significant portion back to the state in rebates each month.

While that specific contract is not directly tied to the RIPTA no-fare bus pass program, the savings it generated offset much of the cost of the passes, helping to make it possible for the Finance Committee to make room in the budget for that program.

“None of us wanted to see the no-fare pass program for the elderly and disabled end, and ensuring that it be restored was really a high priority for me,” said Representative Tanzi.

“I’m glad to have been able to help find a way we could identify savings in another area to fund a program that makes such a difference in people’s lives.

“While 50 cents may not sound like much, for low-income people who rely on the bus for transportation, it adds up quickly, and it results in many adverse effects when they are forced to make tough choices about where they can and can’t afford to go. While I look forward to a permanent funding source being identified, I’m happy to have been able to contribute to bringing back this program and getting no-fare bus passes back into the hands of people who desperately need them,” she said.