Of cheap fares and Christmas card quandaries


There’s been pushback to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s plan to make some low-income elderly and/or disabled people who have been riding for free  pay 50 cents a ride.

With those tiny fares, taking public transportation will still be much cheaper for them than owning/driving a car. Further, at least most low-income old people have Social Security and Medicare, unlike younger working-class folks unprotected by AARP lobbyists.

When many people ride for free or at very low fares, it dangerously drains RIPTA’s  fiscal ability to provide the frequent and predictable service that could draw many more paying customers; that added revenue could be used to improve the service and, in a virtuous circle, get new riders and revenue. Many riders would happily pay fares more commensurate with the real cost of service if service were better.

The Providence Journal reported that RIPTA “spends about $4.20 per ride on fixed-route buses, and the average fare paid by riders is $1.50….’’ That is absurdly low but helps explain (along with bad labor contracts and inadequate state support) why RIPTA service is so inadequate: It never has enough money to really improve.

Special-interest politics keep undermining sound public policy in Rhode Island, whose dense population would seem readymade for mass transit. The MBTA has plenty of problems, but Greater Boston’s great prosperity can be attributed in part to that system’s dense network and frequent service.


There are always lessons from holiday seasons, if only to reinforce what you already knew, such as needing to appreciate how much time seems to accelerate as you get older and thus to savor each day as it speeds past.  You look up from your morning coffee and it’s Christmas again!

And how fragile we are! Consider the annual casualty list as expressed by Christmas cards that don’t arrive because the senders are dead or too sick or enfeebled by age to write.  Or sometimes it’s that the absent senders are newly divorced.  Send the latter a “Happy New Year’’ card!  (But maybe happiness is overrated:  An article in The Lancet, the British medical journal,  says that research suggests that unhappy people don’t die earlier than happy ones

Those lazy -- perhaps  modern is a better word – e-mail cards: I respect any efforts to keep in touch but something on a screen doesn’t measure up to something tactile. It’s just too easy to push “send’’  to multitudes who get exactly the same message, like an ad.  We’re much more grateful getting a physical card with a few words written with a pen by someone mentally and physically trying to maintain or restore a connection with one or a few individuals.

Meanwhile, deciding to whom to send cards can become a rather ruthless exercise. You’ve accumulated a lot of acquaintances but how many are really friends? You’re tempted to start culling the list even faster than death does.

Then you get a surprise card from someone you knew slightly  years before but  always wished that you knew better. Sending back a card might be a way to start establishing a real friendship, though that’s rare: You’ve moved on too far.

Another funny thing that happens as the Christmases roll by is that not only do you selfishly not want the bother and expense of buying Christmas presents but maybe you don’t want to get them either – it’s just more stuff to store or, at best, “regift.’’  Except, of course, for cash….

A lot of these thoughts are simply about getting older, which speaks to newspaper readers’ demographics. Anyway, if you maintain a clinical curiosity leavened with some humor aging can sometimes be pleasant.

And an observation from this past Yule shopping season: While some small neighborhood shops will keep thriving as people seek convenience, community and quirkiness,  Amazon, et al., may soon kill most big department stores. Prepare for a post-retail Providence Place. Textile factory? Dorms?

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) is a Providence-based editor and writer and the overseer of New England Diary.