With temperatures in the 90s for a second straight day, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is helping Rhode Islanders beat the heat by delivering federal funds to help the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) offer free, air-conditioned bus and trolley service on bad air days, when air quality reaches unhealthy levels due to elevated levels of ozone or fine particle pollutants in the air.
Due to the heat and humidity, the National Weather Service today issued a heat advisory for Rhode Island and parts of New England from 11:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. warning that heat indexes may reach above 100 degrees, resulting in hazardous environmental conditions. To encourage Rhode Islanders to limit motor vehicle use and lower ground-level ozone levels that contribute to the negative health effects of air pollution, RIPTA will offer free regular bus and trolley service, excluding special services, throughout the day. RIPTA is reimbursed for free service on air quality alert days by federal funds through the Federal Highway Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program.
Last year, Rhode Island had 8 air quality alert days and was reimbursed about $208,000 in federal CMAQ funding to help pay for free rides and educating the public about the program. This year, RIPTA may use up to $250,000 in CMAQ funding for the program.
"We want people to be safe and healthy and take advantage of the free rides, which also help cut down on ground pollution. If folks need a breather, they can take the bus. And once they see how convenient RIPTA service is hopefully they will continue using public transportation. These free rides also help educate people about air quality and the need to prevent pollution," said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee who also helped secure over $3.5 million in CMAQ funds in the Recovery Act to address emissions from school buses operating in Rhode Island.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that evidence from observational studies strongly indicates that higher daily ozone concentrations are associated with increased asthma attacks, increased hospital admissions, increased daily mortality, and other markers of morbidity.
Senator Reed helped write the last major surface transportation bill (known as "SAFETEA-LU"), which reauthorized CMAQ and included over $84 million for RIPTA -- a 71% increase for the state -- to modernize its bus fleet and expand public transportation options throughout the state. CMAQ project decisions are made at the State level, but subject to federal guidelines. Congress is currently considering a two-year transportation bill to extend these programs.
Last year, Reed successfully led an effort to protect the quality of Rhode Island's air by voting to defeat a proposal that would have overturned the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule limiting wind-blown pollution like soot and ozone-forming chemicals from power plants. Without the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in place, Rhode Island would have faced increases in both air pollution and health care costs and would have had to pay more in pollution clean-up costs.