Businesses at the Wickford Junction shopping center in North Kingstown hoping for a customer boost from commuters using the new $44 million train station next door will have to be patient.
Roughly two months since Mass. Bay Transportation Authority trains started rolling into Wickford Junction, ridership is modest, although growing, prompting a glass-half-full reaction from station neighbors and proponents.
“We are kind of excited because there appears to be more traffic, but as far as the shopping center is concerned, it has not shown in sales,” said Robert A. Cioe, the developer at the center of the Wickford Junction station concept and owner of the shopping center. “The summer is typically a tough time because we’re not quite close enough to the beach, so it is usually a little slow.”
During May, the first full month of MBTA service to North Kingstown, an average of 119 riders used the train each day.
Over the first two weeks of June, that daily average crept up to 139 riders per day, an improvement, but still a long way from the 1,500 commuters DOT officials estimated will use the station daily by 2020.
Based on their experience at other new MBTA stations, state transportation offices said use of Wickford Junction had “exceeded expectations.”
“The [R.I. Department of Transportation] didn’t anticipate full ridership on the first day and it’s going to take some time to build that number up,” said DOT spokesman Bryan Lucier. “The ridership at T.F. Green and Wickford Junction has exceeded DOT’s expectations at this early stage of the service. It is important to look at the long-term projections.”
As a precedent, RIDOT points to the Providence train station, which was drawing about 200 riders per day when trains first started running in 1988, but is now up to about 2,000 per day.
From the MBTA’s perspective, one of the attractive aspects of expanding train service south into Rhode Island is the prospect of capturing commuters headed to Providence, allowing the railroad to effectively fill each train to or from Boston twice.
But in the early returns from passengers using the Wickford Junction station, an overwhelming majority of South County riders are using the train to go all the way to Boston, suggesting the weakness in the Providence economy is holding ridership back.