Rhode Island’s transit authority, RIPTA, announced last week that they would be cancelling their summer bus service that runs from the state’s northern urban areas to the state’s southern beaches. The service allowed for people in Rhode Island’s urban core without cars to escape for a day. Unfortunately, it was never anything more than that, which contributed to its demise.
As a native Rhode Islander, I recall many times opting against going to the beach for the simple fact that I did not want to sit in traffic on Route 1 – a traffic signal-laden four-lane road that connects Providence to Narragansett’s beaches. When we did go to the beach, we passed several Park-and-Ride lots that could have easily been stops on RIPTA’s Beach Bus. But all suburban areas along the Beach Bus route were bypassed. Instead of marketing this service as a means of bypassing beach traffic, RIPTA instead simply marketed the Beach Bus as an opportunity for the poor to reach the beach.
What’s more baffling, though, is the pricing structure of the Beach Bus. At $1.75, the fare was identical to any other bus route in Rhode Island, despite its relative speed and efficiency compared to the local routes that parallel it. RIPTA refused to recognize that a premium service should come with a premium price. Simply doubling the fare would have not only helped keep the service alive, but it would have allowed RIPTA to market it as a premium service, which would have made it more attractive to those who do drive to the beach. With the added potential of gas prices driving people out of their cars, the marketing costs very well could have been covered easily by the added revenue.
Many nay-sayers cry foul over subsidization and demand profitability from public transit. While it’s not realistic to think that most bus service can be profitable, a service that provides fast and direct transit to a major driving destination certainly has the potential of turning a profit with careful planning and proper marketing. RIPTA, as strapped for cash as it is, should have considered ways to make the line more profitable, rather than cutting it for the sake of saving $54,000 – 0.07% of the agency’s total operating costs.
(Photo via julishannon on flickr)