Congregants hear about the human cost of raising bus fares

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CRANSTON – Speaking at Shabbat services at Temple Sinai, Christine Tate worried aloud: “I hardly make it through the month and now they want us to start paying for the bus. I’m not going to be able to do so.”

The Sept. 9 service at the Cranston temple featured two special guests: Paul Medici and Christine Tate, citizen-activists and part of the social service group the R.I. Organizing Project. They oppose ending no-fare bus passes for low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities.

About 14,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities rely on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s Senior/Disabled No-Fare Bus Pass for basic transportation. The RIPTA program was set to end this past July, replaced with fares of $1 a ride and 50 cents per transfer, but a loud public outcry managed to stave off the increase.

The no-fare bus pass was extended for an additional six months, through December, with $900,000 included in the state budget to cover the cost. However, beginning in January, the fare is scheduled to increase to 50 cents a ride and 25 cents for a transfer.

Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser serves on the steering committee for the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty. He has long been a champion of the no-fare bus pass. Goldwasser was one of the many people to speak out last fall at public hearings on the fare hike held across the state.

While $1 or 50 cents may not seem like a lot of money, Goldwasser said many riders make multiple trips every day, so the cost adds up quickly.

While introducing Medici and Tate, Goldwasser reminded his congregation of the many seniors who gather for the Kosher Senior Cafe lunch program at the synagogue Monday through Friday. 

“Many come to find connections and break the isolation that some seniors sometimes feel in their communities. Others come because they’re hungry and need the meal,” Goldwasser told the congregation. Whether for social connections, food, or both, affordable transportation is vital for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, he said.   

Paul told the congregants a bit of his story: “I worked and drove most of my life until I got sick. Now, the pass allows me to volunteer three days per week as well as pick up medicines at the pharmacy, see family and friends, and remain an active member of society.

“If I were charged to ride the bus on my limited income, I could do almost none of these things.”

Tate, who is 63, said she worked from age 14 to age 59. She was a nurse for 30 years, before getting injured, requiring two back surgeries and a hip replacement. After this, she went into cooking for nine years, but eventually her doctor said she was unable to work at all. For the past four years, she’s relied on a very limited income from Social Security Disability Insurance.

Tate worries that if she loses the no-fare bus pass and has to stay at home, she’s at risk of depression. She said, “If we have to pay for the buses, I will not be able to go to the market. I have food stamps, but no money for the bus, so I will have to go to the corner store, where prices are higher and the food stamps will go faster – that means more hunger because the food stamps will not last as long.”

Goldwasser urged the 30 to 40 congregants gathered for Shabbat to do more than just listen and then go about their business. 

“It’s not just about these two wonderful speakers,” he said, “it’s about working for tzedakah, for justice, for becoming the kind of state that we want to be.”

EMILY JONES is interfaith coordinator at the R.I. Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty.

Editor’s Note: The Jewish Alliance, in partnership with a local taxi company, offers subsidized vouchers to Jewish Rhode Islanders ages 65+ or individuals with an ADA-recognized disability. Learn more at AccessJewishRI.org or call our Access warm-line at 401-421-4111, ext. 411.