Trio of Bills Would Inject Much-Needed Cash into RIPTA’s Coffers


The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has been historically underfunded. That needs to change if the state truly wants to serve the needs of RIPTA’s users and reduce climate pollution. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Several bills in the General Assembly are proposing ways to fund the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, to help curb a current driver shortage, avoid a looming fiscal cliff, and implement large-scale transit goals.

Rep. Karen Alzate, a Democrat who represents parts of Central Falls and Pawtucket, is sponsoring a bill (H7774) to provide $78 million in the coming fiscal year to the agency largely because of how service cuts proposed by RIPTA will hit the communities she serves.

The service cuts, which RIPTA’s board of directors is expected to vote on later this month, would reduce service on, get rid of segments of, or eliminate altogether more than a dozen lines. Authority staff said cuts will improve on-time performance and reduce dropped rides that have worsened because of the driver shortage.

Alzate’s bill would allocate $24 million to increase driver wages and benefits to be “competitive and in line with the rising cost of living in Rhode Island and with our neighboring states.” RIPTA recently implemented a wage increase, but it is unclear whether and how that will impact hiring.

Many of Alzate’s constituents take the bus and have let her know how cuts would impact their lives.

The public hearing RIPTA recently held in Pawtucket to alert the public to the changes and collect comment was filled with emotional testimony about how the cuts would negatively affect people’s livelihood and health.

An additional $8 million in the bill would plug the deficit RIPTA currently faces as a result of exhausted federal funding that kept the agency afloat during COVID. Transit agencies around the country are facing similar issues.

Alzate said she is hopeful there’s momentum to get funding through to help the agency and prevent it from starting a death spiral of underfunding and decreased ridership.

“I’m the one that put it in,” she said of the bill, “but this is something that really affects the whole state.”

Her colleague Rep. Terri Cortvriend, a Democrat representing Portsmouth and Middletown, is co-sponsoring the bill.

Advocates had approached Cortvriend to tell her about the issues RIPTA is facing, including the ongoing driver shortage, and she said she believes RIPTA will be a big part of reducing Rhode Island’s carbon emissions.

“If we don’t get people out of their cars, we’re going to have a hard time meeting those goals,” she said. Although she supports electric vehicle adoption, Cortvriend said, “I don’t think that’s going to get us there fast enough.”

On top of reducing vehicle miles traveled and carbon emissions, she said she would like service to be better on Aquidneck Island, for the community she serves and for herself.

“I never take the bus,” Cortvriend admitted, largely because it does not run frequently or late enough to make sense for her commute.

“I don’t have any constituents yelling at me,” she said, “but I think we don’t even think about it on the island because I think it’s not prevalent enough. It’s not convenient enough.”

The bill would apportion $46 million in the next fiscal year and annually the following years to fund the Transit Master Plan (TMP).

The bill was referred to the House Finance Committee and is not yet scheduled for a hearing.

In addition to the appropriations bill, Sen. Meghan Kallman, a Democrat serving parts of Providence and Pawtucket, is sponsoring a bill (S2169) that would shift sales tax funding from ride-shares to RIPTA. It would also add an additional 75-cent surcharge on rides, half of which would be distributed to municipalities where the ride started, with the other half of the fee funding the TMP.

Kallman noted that Massachusetts is already doing something similar. She also warned that the surcharge and sales tax change won’t be enough on their own.

“The effort here is to find a sustainable source of income,” she said. “No one source of income is going to be enough to do this.”

Rep. David Morales, D-Providence, is sponsoring a version of the bill in the House (H7678), and Cortvriend is a co-sponsor.

“We’re about to go off a cliff and it is a crucial piece of infrastructure,” Kallman said of RIPTA. “And if we do that, if we allow that to happen, it will hamstring the state.”

Join the Discussion

View Comments

Recent Comments

  1. The March 20 House Finance Committee budget hearing on RIPTA and RIDOT is an opportunity to call attention to transit funding even if the bills mentioned are not formally on the Agenda, they could be folded into the budget. I think it fair to say we are not making progress in reducing transportation emissions, we need to do thongs differently to bring them down and transit can help if it attracted more riders, and by supporting energy-efficient infill and transit-oriented development instead of the energy-inefficient sprawl that RIDOT promotes with all their expensive highway capacity expansions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your support keeps our reporters on the environmental beat.

Reader support is at the core of our nonprofit news model. Together, we can keep the environment in the headlines.


We use cookies to improve your experience and deliver personalized content. View Cookie Settings