Alviti: Transit Master Plan is a ‘Wish List’
RIPTA's new board chair seeks to make agency more like RIDOT
July 24, 2023
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Department of Transportation director Peter Alviti took the helm of the state transit system’s governing board last week, asking for detailed information from staff and suggesting way the agency could be run more like his own.
Alviti began the meeting by telling the audience and the rest of the board that it was his mission to come up with more concrete goals for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, including addressing a looming fiscal cliff set to hit the agency when federal COVID funding runs out in 2025.
“There is a Transit Master Plan that everyone here has seen and, I’m sure, aspires to achieving,” Alviti said. “But there isn’t a penny available to implement anything. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a plan. That’s a wish list, and agencies don’t operate on a wish list.
“I hope and pray that everyone here will work with me on accomplishing that [concrete goals].”
Alviti became the chair of the RIPTA board of directors after the General Assembly passed legislation this year installing RIDOT’s director in the position and adding an additional member to the body. An earlier draft of the bill placed RIPTA under RIDOT, but was met by criticism from transit advocates who rallied and testified against the legislation, even after it was modified.
Despite the previous concerns, transit advocates spoke about looking forward to working with the board under its new configuration during the public comment period, a practice that some of Alviti’s opponents had worried he would discontinue.
“We wish you well, and we are ready to work with you on your mission,” co-coordinator of Rhode Island Transit Riders Patricia Raub said.
“On behalf of our staff and Board of Directors, I welcome Director Alviti in his new role as RIPTA Board Chair,” Grow Smart Rhode Island deputy director John Flaherty wrote in a statement sent to the board ahead of the meeting. “We wish him much success in advancing RIPTA’s mission to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective transit service with a skilled team of professionals responsive to its customers, the environment, through its commitment to transit excellence.”
In the future, Alviti said, he would like the agency to have a week to answer questions from the public and other board members, citing several questions he had asked in a previous meeting that had gone unanswered or inadequately answered.
Some of the information Alviti asked for was provided in different presentations throughout last Wednesday’s meeting, but the RIDOT director said he believed it would be helpful for board members to get answers in advance so they could have time to review and ask follow-up questions.
Board member Patrick Crowley applauded the move, but fellow member Michelle Wilcox pushed back on the request. She argued that a week was insufficient time for RIPTA staff to respond, and a compromise was reached that RIPTA staff would respond with what information they could gather within a week, and provide a timeline for when additional information would be available.
During the July 19 meeting, RIPTA staff reported they were issuing a new request for proposals (RFPs) on the planning for the agency’s high-capacity transit project. At the June meeting, Alviti had expressed concern about the nearly $1 million disparity between the two submissions and RIPTA’s decision to go with the firm that cost more.
He also made a suggestion for how procurements could operate differently in the future:
“We separate the two procurement processes,” said Alviti, referring to RIDOT’s and RIPTA’s processes. “We separate cost proposals from qualitative proposals. We assess separately the qualitative approach proposal prior to assigning the points and actually opening a project, so we can be assured that the assessment isn’t in any way affected by the costs that are being proposed by various companies.”
The board also discussed and approved the design proposal for the Pawtucket-Central Falls passenger facilities building.
Alviti questioned why cost had not been considered in that project, and a RIPTA staff member replied that federal regulations prohibited the agency from taking cost into consideration in the initial decision for an engineering project, which the facilities will fall under.
Alviti suggested that some of those requirements are not as stringent as they seem.
“Every once in a while, if you poke those, you can see if they really exist,” he said.
“I’m batting a thousand with our regular reviews with the [Federal Transit Authority] and I’d like to keep it that way,” the staff member replied.
The board also approved a renewal of its Microsoft licenses and a resolution for a bank authorization.
The next RIPTA board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16.
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