Whelp, here we are. My first Flex post, and also my first time using RIPTA’s Flex service. I suppose I should preface this with the whole “what is Flex” thing.
So, what IS Flex? Flex is what is known as demand-response transit, or also referred to as microtransit. The idea behind it is that you can either walk up to a designated Flex stop like a normal bus stop (sometimes), or you can call ahead at least 1 day in advance (referring to Monday-Friday here). From there, you can reserve a pick-up and drop-off point in a designated Flex zone. Yes, that includes dedicated deviations in places that your standard 40ft city bus otherwise wouldn’t/can’t deviate into. In many ways, it’s similar to a standard fixed bus route in that fares are essentially the same (on RIPTA, anyways). However, unlike paratransit services like RIde for RIPTA or Dial-a-Ride for GATRA, anyone can use it. Now, how was my journey via RIPTA’s Flex? Let’s find out.
To even get to the 282, I boarded the midday 9x express trip and went all the way through the hinterlands and into Pascoag. Then, after a short trip into Brigidio’s Market to buy a quick drink (coffee milk, for the curious), I went back to the bus stop. One lady waiting asked me if I was all set or if I wanted to board the 9x back. I said I was fine. Then, about halfway through my small bottle of milk, the other lady that was with me said “LOOK!”. I looked behind and there was the Flex van. The lady driving opened the door, and asked “North Smithfield?”. I then confirmed with her if she was referring to Walmart (the transfer point with the 54) and I said yes, and boarded. Fare was your standard affair, with both cash and Wave being accepted. From then, I took my seat…..only to quickly discover that there was a stop request push strip instead of a cord. Whoops. I apologized upon noticing it (after hitting it from leaning my elbow against the wall) and we kept going.
As one would predict, it’s largely a rural ride. Trees were everywhere with the occasional house or business. Sometimes there’d be a village center. We pressed on down RI-102. Eventually though, we reached the other Brigidio’s Market. But, unlike in Pascoag, this one served as the terminus for the 59X.
We crossed over 146 and it was still much of the same. However, it got denser soon enough. At this point we were unofficially outside the Flex zone, however we still had more to go because it officially connects with the 54. But at this point, we were largely following the 59X’s routing.
Soon enough, we ended up reaching Dowling Village, where the end of the line was (for me). The driver asked if I was heading to Lincoln or Woonsocket, and then if the bus stop or store itself was my preferred drop-off. I told her the stop was good and that I was heading to Lincoln. From here, I then was let off at the bus stop as expected and then the driver went to do a layover (I think).
The good: It provides (somewhat) regular service to the people in northern RI, which otherwise has no fixed routes other than the 9x and 59x. It’s also comfy, I will concede that RIPTA definitely got the comfort factor going for the Flex fleet that won’t be seen on their 40ft fleet any time soon.
The bad: The scheduled stops probably won’t do anyone any favors. What’s with the stop out at Zambarano Hospital, anyways? I mean, I’m sure someone uses it, but there wasn’t anyone else on my trip. Speaking of which, why can’t Flex in general be on-demand via the Wave app or something similar? Although, there are plans to address that with a proposed pilot program for the 242 Flex (which has no scheduled stops). Furthermore, I’m sure most people who would be likely to use Flex, would much rather have a direct connection to Woonsocket via Slatersville anyways.
Nearby points of interest: Well, let’s see what’s in the Flex zone. There’s the Zambarano Hospital all the way near the tri-point. There’s Pascoag Village. There’s also Harrisville Village. Out east you have Slatersville with its points of interest (basically just Brigidio’s) and Dowling Village, which has Walmart. There’s also Wright’s Farm just outside the Flex zone.
Overall, it really isn’t that bad a route. My main gripes is with how Flex is executed. Like, I like the concept. I really do. And if it wasn’t limited to calling in a day or two in advance, I’d probably be more eager to use Flex locally (the 242). In terms of the route itself, it’s definitely up there as it serves an otherwise grossly underserved part of RI, being rural in nature. Hell, I’d even say it’s an 8 for that. But, the way Flex is executed as a service in general with all the drawbacks stated above brings it down to a 4. I will, however, shout out the driver for being incredibly helpful and understanding.