PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — South County commuters who want to try the rail service at Wickford Junction in North Kingstown can do so for free on Wednesdays this winter, state officials announced Thursday.
The program will run six Wednesdays, from Jan. 23 until Feb. 27. It's designed to encourage people to try the service, which is operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and has drawn daily ridership of about 150 since starting in April.
That is just a tenth of the ridership projected by a study done a few years before service started, but Department of Transportation spokesman Charles St. Martin said the study was based on building up ridership over five to seven years. St. Martin said state officials always expected a slow period of growth in ridership at the beginning as people consider the service, try it out, then make it part of their routine.
"This is one of the ways to get the word out," he said. "Rhode Islanders like their cars, and it's a different way of thinking for commuters in Rhode Island to consider the train."
He said the hope is that many commuters to downtown Providence will see they can save money by using the train, avoid unpleasant winter driving and be able to take advantage of conveniences such as free Wi-Fi on the train.
Under the program, called "Wickford Wintertime Wednesdays," commuters will get free parking at Wickford Station and a round-trip rail ticket to Providence. The offer is valid until 3 p.m. and riders must download a registration form at wickfordjunction.com to participate.
Parking is usually $4 and a round-trip fare to Providence is $6.50.
St. Martin said the department wouldn't know until the program is over how much it will cost. He said the state did similar promotions two decades ago when commuter rail service first came to Providence. Ridership from that station now averages about 2,000 per day.