Senator Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) and Representative Leonela “Leo” Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket) have introduced legislation that would provide free transportation on Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses.
The bill, which was unveiled today at a press conference at Kennedy Plaza in Providence, also sets up the funding structure to support the initiative financially.
“Public transportation cuts across so many issues,” said Senator Kallman in a statement. “It’s a climate and environment issue. It’s a neighborhood and quality-of-life issue. It’s an economic issue. When we acknowledge this critical link between public transit, job access and social equity, the need for this legislation becomes obvious. Good public transit is a cornerstone of both climate readiness and social justice.”
“Public transportation is a significant part of the fight for racial and social justice,” said Representative Felix in a statement. “We know that low-income and people of color use public transportation up to twice as frequently as white Americans. One of the most significant barriers to equitable transportation for low-income people is cost. This legislation ensures that everyone — regardless of race, ethnicity, or class — has a safe way to get to work or school, and to access critical services like health care or food. This will help employers as well, giving them access to a wider pool of workers.”
Senator Kallman also touted the legislation as a significant component of Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a major enviro-economic initiative that was launched earlier this year to transition Rhode Island toward a net-zero emission economy by the year 2050.
“Public transportation is one of the most effective ways to conserve energy while also growing local economies,” said Senator Kallman. “Switching from a 20-mile commute alone by car to public transportation can reduce annual CO2 emissions by 20 pounds per day; and keeping fare money in people’s pockets — especially during a recession — can help stimulate the economy.”
“As General Treasurer, my highest priority is promoting economic growth and financial security for Rhode Islanders,” said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner in a statement. “Free public transportation can grow our economy by more efficiently getting Rhode Islanders to and from their places of employment, education, and training, and helping workers to keep more of the money they earn and spending it in the local economy. I am pleased to stand with our partners today to advocate for a service that would help keep us competitive in the regional economy while supporting Rhode Island workers.”
A press release on behalf of the officials says that “recent studies point to a growing preference and use of public transportation by younger Americans, particularly those in the millennial cohort, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. This is due to a number of factors, including less vehicle ownership and reliance; less need for travel due to more work and socialization at home via online access; more travel by foot, bike, and shared-use services such car-sharing and ride-hailing”.