State Officials Want to Steer RIPTA Into an Expensive Accident
February 1, 2024
If the Ocean State wasn’t a historically dysfunctional mess, perhaps the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority spending upwards of $16 million to find an out-of-the-way place to hide their customers wouldn’t seem like a stupid idea driven by private interests.
But Rhode Island is built upon stupid. It’s passed around the Statehouse like a fat joint. Private interests rule. The public is an afterthought. An impediment.
RIPTA is speeding toward a fiscal cliff with Toonces behind the wheel. It is again considering reducing service on more routes and cutting others. It can’t hire enough drivers. Ridership is declining.
Despite all these problems, the state believes the solution lies with building (possibly) a new transit hub that reconfigures downtown in a way that satisfies the wants of Joe Paolino and his wealthy ilk. The chair of the RIPTA board, its CEO, the Senate president, and the governor are happy to oblige.
The only two Rhode Island outcomes from this inevitable fiasco will do nothing to serve the public good. Either way, the outcome will benefit the few at the expense of the many:
1) Millions of dollars, up to $16,874,374, wasted on an imagined bus hub that never gets built.
2) A new bus hub is built, but it doesn’t actually serve the people who rely on public transit. The system is broken further, but Kennedy Plaza is no longer infested with the plebes the city’s downtown landlords despise.
In an Aug. 23, 2023, RIPTA press release announcing its board of directors had voted unanimously “to engage Next Wave Rhode Island Partners,” Gov. Dan McKee is all in on a new Providence transit hub.
“Developing a new downtown transit center will significantly improve the public transit experience for RIPTA riders,” he is quoted.
He had no idea then nor does he now how a new bus hub would impact RIPTA riders, because we don’t know where it is going to be located.
His ridiculous comments continue:
“Modernizing our transit system and providing upgraded amenities will attract more riders, reduce cars and emissions on our roadways, reducing harmful environmental impacts.”
A new shiny building doesn’t magically make an underfunded public transit system modern. A working system features reliable and efficient service, enough drivers, Statehouse support, and proper funding.
The governor’s proposed fiscal 2025 budget leaves RIPTA in an $8 million hole.
In a RIPTA press release issued this week to announce the Kennedy Plaza replacement project, the governor is back at it.
“Bringing our transit system into the 21st century will attract more riders, reduce cars and emissions on our roadways.”
No matter where the state hides, err, moves the bus hub, it’s not going to attract more riders if RIPTA is forced to continue to cut and eliminate services. (I will pay $100 to the first reader who sends me a photo of Gov. McKee riding RIPTA. The governor, his friends, family, and security detail are not eligible.)
RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian is also quoted in the press release. He must have been forced to say the following at gunpoint:
“Thank you to Governor McKee and RIPTA’s Board of Directors for their support of public transportation and vision to improve the ridership experience while also creating economic development opportunities. A new transit center is a major step in strengthening our transit system and laying the groundwork to expand ridership, maximize investment from the private sector, and create a financially viable model.”
A new transit center alone does none of that, even if it offers larger indoor waiting areas, expanded restrooms, digital screens to track arrivals and departures, and WiFi.
Kennedy Plaza has been updated twice during the past dozen years, but the fact buses run late, service isn’t reliable, and many trips take more than twice as long as they do by car is why RIPTA ridership has been on decline since 2008.
Smith Hill is to blame. Lawmakers have long done nothing to improve public transit in Rhode Island, except use taxpayer money to fund studies they ignore.
The Jan. 30 press lease ends with the promise that “RIPTA and Next Wave Partners will launch a robust public comment period to gather stakeholder input.”
If stakeholder input is gathered, it most likely will be dismissed.
At a RIPTA board meeting this week, member Normand Benoit said the Kennedy Plaza location may actually be a hindrance to increased transit use. He doesn’t explain why.
Next Wave Partners was the only bidder to respond to a nationwide request for proposals to design and build a new bus hub, which has been projected to cost $77 million.
After we spend more than $80 million (it’s a sure bet the project goes over budget), are we expected to believe the Statehouse will suddenly decide public transit needs better support and funding?
More likely, the non-RIPTA-riding cabal pushing for Kennedy Plaza to be replaced believe indoor seating, new bathrooms, fancy screens, and an internet connection will make the commoners grateful, even if the buses continue to run late as they try to get to work.
Note: For those unfamiliar with “Toonces the Driving Cat,” click here.
Frank Carini can be reached at [email protected]. His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.