R.I. Law Would Have Offered Transit Pass Program for State Employees, But No One Followed Through
January 29, 2024
PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly, 16 years ago, passed a law mandating the state develop a plan for reducing vehicle miles traveled by its employees. It was to include a public transit pass program for state workers.
After figuring out the baseline for how far state workers drove to their jobs, the law set the goal of reducing that number by 35% in eight years. A committee would be formed to implement the plan and the director of the Department of Administration (DOA) would report annually to that committee and the governor on progress, the statute said.
The DOA has a drafted plan, but it has never been finalized or brought back to the General Assembly for approval. The committee on state employee transportation doesn’t exist, the annual reports on reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), aren’t happening, and the pass program hasn’t materialized.
When the state passes a law, it doesn’t always mean it will be implemented. ecoRI News reported last year on a 1989 law that likely made the sale of nip bottles illegal, but they are still available 35 years later in liquor stores across the state.
Laura Hart, external affairs lead at DOA, told ecoRI News in a statement that because the law was passed so long ago and under a different administration, “I don’t have any information about the decision-making at that time.”
“We are committed to moving the needle for state government and are continuing to review opportunities to develop additional actionable strategies on an ongoing basis,” Hart wrote.
Some lawmakers and advocates who recently spoke with ecoRI News said they would be interested in reviving the law, especially a public transit pass program for state employees.
The drafted “State Employee Transportation Guide Plan,” dated 2010, offers ideas on how to get state workers walking, bicycling, taking public transit, or carpooling more often to reach the goal of reducing their vehicle miles traveled by 35% by 2016.
Although it wasn’t finalized, Hart noted that some of the measures that were suggested in the draft plan have been accomplished, like creating the state’s Bicycle Mobility Plan and Transit Master Plan.
But the transit pass in lieu of parking privileges never happened.
Sen. Meghan Kallman, a Democrat representing Pawtucket and Providence, said the state employee transit pass program is “exactly the kind of program we need to be mobilizing.”
Her colleague, Rep. David Morales, a Democrat serving Providence’s Mount Pleasant, Valley, and Elmhurst neighborhoods, said talking to ecoRI News was the first he had ever heard of the law, but that he would love to see such a program for state employees.
Transit rider and Grow Smart Rhode Island deputy director John Flaherty recently brought the old law to the attention of the attorney general, to see if and how it could be enforced. Flaherty had been involved in advocating for a 2011 House of Representatives resolution urging DOA to follow through with 2008 law.
Flaherty noted any decrease in VMT would help the state reach its greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates.
The Act on Climate law also mandates that “state agencies shall … develop programs to encourage state employees to reduce their vehicle miles and use sustainable transportation alternatives, including public transit systems.”
When asked about whether Gov. Dan McKee had any interest in revisiting or enforcing the 2008 law, his press secretary, Olivia DaRocha, told ecoRI News in a statement that, “The McKee Administration is fully committed to meeting our Act on Climate goals.”
She wrote the administration has already made large investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like supporting the offshore wind industry and expanding electrical vehicle infrastructure.
State employee transportation work will be incorporated into the updated Long-Range Transportation Plan, which would be finished in 2025, DaRocha said.
Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer for the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, which represents some of the state’s union employees, noted that about 10 years ago there had been some talks about getting discounted RIPTA passes for state employees when a parking lot next to the Statehouse was partially taken over by a nearby hotel.
“It never really went anywhere,” he said, but instead, there is a program that allows state employees to pay for RIPTA monthly and daily passes through pre-tax payroll deductions.
If talk of a free or discounted transit program for state employees started again, Crowley said the union is always looking for ways to save their members money and to help the environment, “so there’d be a definite level of interest to explore any options.”