- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority approved a plan Monday to eliminate free bus passes for low-income elderly and disabled riders, paring back one of the nation’s most generous no-fare bus programs.

The authority set a fare of no more than 50 cents for eligible riders, a quarter of the full fare of $2.

It originally planned to charge a half fare, or $1 per trip. But advocates for the poor and disabled organized in opposition, crowding a public meeting Monday and describing how the fares would further isolate an already vulnerable population.

One rider dressed as the Grinch. Others said being charged to ride the bus would force them to stay at home, hindering their health, their social lives and their ability to get to stores and medical appointments.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement before the meeting that she encouraged the authority to delay the increase or limit the new fare to 50 cents. The board approved a compromise plan that echoed her suggestions, delaying the increase to July and capping the new fare at 50 cents, plus 25 cents for transfers. The agency said the fare could be less if it figures out a better plan after working with other state agencies and lawmakers.

“We’re happy there’s a delay,” said Karen Jeffreys of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “It buys us some time.”

The state’s General Assembly allowed the changes to be made in June after a last-minute budget negotiation.

Rhode Island’s transit authority is one of only a handful in the country that offers free bus rides to people with certain disabilities and those who are over age 65 and have low incomes. A quarter of passengers ride for free, which the transit authority has said is no longer sustainable.

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