New bus service offers weekend alternative to Uber, RIPTA

At $3 per trip, new bus will provide riders with access to all areas of the city, residential areas

Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Official Providence Party Bus — a bus service that aims to provide an alternative to transportation staples such as Uber and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority — opened for business last week, said OPPB owner Kristina Grande.

The bus has a route and a fare that distinguish it from other forms of transportation.

“Providence has all these different sections that might as well be their own separate islands,” Grande said. A Rhode Island native who grew up exploring Providence, Grande noted the difficulty of walking, for instance, from Thayer Street to Federal Hill. Upon moving to Detroit, notorious for its lackluster public transportation, she discovered the Detroit Bus Company, which allowed natives and visitors alike to experience the city. This company and the need to connect Providence inspired OPPB, Grande said.

While Grande said she views services such as Uber, RIPTA, Lyft and taxis as competition, she believes OPPB has unique advantages that will attract customers. RIPTA operates off of a central hub and requires passengers to change buses in order to travel from one area of Providence to another, Grande said. OPPB provides riders with access to all areas of the city in a single trip and passes through residential areas so that passengers can catch it from their doorsteps. OPPB’s late hours — operating from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights — also set it apart from RIPTA, which typically terminates service between 10 p.m. and midnight.

Many of RIPTA’s routes that pass through or near college campuses have late night runs to ensure student safety, wrote Barbara Polichetti, RIPTA director of public affairs, in an email to The Herald. Polichetti also cited the UPass program, which gives students at schools such as Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design unlimited access to RIPTA using their student IDs, as one of the ways in which RIPTA caters to young people who might be attracted to the concept of OPPB.

Grande said OPPB’s rates — $3 per trip or $8 for a night of unlimited rides — make it a cheaper option than services like Lyft and Uber.

Carlie Waibel, a spokesperson for Uber Boston, declined to comment on OPPB.

James Fife ’19 said he is unsure whether he will use OPPB because he does not want to travel to other parts of the city. “There’s so much going on here at Brown and RISD and downtown that I don’t feel like I would need to go anywhere else.”

Fife said he also prefers the flexibility of an Uber over the fixed schedule of a bus, which would perhaps require him to leave a party or event early in order to catch a ride back to his dormitory.

Though she said she would not rely on OPPB if she were in a hurry to get somewhere, Mara Donadio ’19 said she is willing to consider trying out the new bus as a way to add a new experience to a typical weekend night.

Control of music, access to phone chargers and plans to make OPPB a form of entertainment further separate it from other forms of transportation, Grande said.

Grande said she hopes to soon convert the bus’s interior. “We’re thinking a living room theme. You walk into the bus, and it seems like a comfortable environment to hang out.” She said she has already hired a staff, including a main driver who works as a reggae DJ at night and a group of monitors or tour guides, who she imagines will make the OPPB experience interactive and fun.

Grande said she is working on featured routes, on which passengers will be provided with a list of recommended places to stop, including local restaurants and bars with which she will partner.

Mimicking the Detroit Bus Company, Grande said she plans to partner with nonprofits by donating fares or making the bus available for charity events. In addition, like the Detroit model that offers after-school transportation for children, Grande said she would be open to providing her bus to ferry students to after-school activities in the future. As a mother with a full-time job, Grande said she finds it difficult to pick up her son from school and drive him to piano lessons or art classes. “Kids lose out on these amazing opportunities that are available to them because of transportation.”

Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Carlie Waibel, a spokesperson for Uber Boston, said she could not comment on the competition. In fact, she declined to comment.

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