Metro

RIPTA proposes 30 percent service reduction

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has proposed a 30 percent service reduction, including the termination of all service after 10 p.m., in response to its massive budget deficit.

RIPTA held public hearings throughout the state during July and August to address proposed cuts. The transit authority was slated to decide on a proposal by Aug. 22, but the decision was postponed “to give RIPTA more time to consider public comments, incorporate any suggestions and review other possible alternatives,” wrote RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe in an email to The Herald.

RIPTA faces a $4.6 million shortfall for fiscal year 2012 — a result of reduced revenue from the state gas tax and high fuel costs for its fleet. In past years, the General Assembly and the governor have allotted RIPTA funds, but given the state’s dire financial situation, no such solution has been made available.

Proposed cuts include elimination of routes and route segments and reduced service. If enacted, the proposal would eliminate holiday bus service, all “Flex” services in Narragansett — which offer passengers the option of calling a ride — and some “Park n’ Ride” services, which provide free parking lots for commuters taking mass transit.

The cuts would affect 39 bus routes and 35 communities.

This is not the first time RIPTA has enacted major cuts. In 2008, the transit authority made service reductions affecting 47 routes and eliminating 20 bus drivers’ jobs.

The cutbacks would not change the University’s agreement with RIPTA allowing students, faculty and staff to ride for free.

Proposed reductions should not have a significant impact on students, wrote Elizabeth Gentry, assistant vice president of financial and administrative services, in an email to The Herald.

“Many of the routes that pass through College Hill are well-traveled and, at initial glance, don’t appear to be proposed for elimination or service reduction,” Gentry wrote, though she did note that the elimination of all bus service after 10 p.m. could affect students.

The University reimburses RIPTA at a fixed rate per ride, an arrangement that will continue regardless of changes made to the services offered, she wrote. The Brown community uses RIPTA services approximately 32,000 times per month, with half that volume coming from student use.

“We will minimize as much as possible any negative impact” on riders, Odimgbe said. The transport authority plans to base its cuts on the services riders say impact them most during the hearings, he added. “I do not believe we are going to leave anyone hanging out to dry.”

Brown does not currently have any plans to change transportation services in response to the proposed reductions, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president. “We will have to evaluate it as we experience it,” he said.

Raaj Parekh ’13 takes a RIPTA bus every day to his internship in Central Falls. “Cutting RIPTA’s services would significantly decrease the feasibility of Brown students volunteering, interning or working any significant distance from campus, which would be a regrettable loss,” he wrote in an email to The Herald.

Rhode Island residents expressed concerns about the looming cuts. Many residents rely on RIPTA as “their main mode of transportation to and from work (and) school,” wrote Woonsocket native Laura Moynihan ’13, in an email to The Herald. “Cuts to RIPTA’s services would have significant negative consequences,” she wrote.

Seventy percent of RIPTA’s riders have “no other options,” Odimgbe said.

Matt Leon ’14, a resident of the Bristol County area, said he frequently uses some of the RIPTA bus routes slated for elimination. He also often takes RIPTA buses after 10 p.m. “I am going to have to get rides from family and friends,” he said.

“Carpooling will be a big thing,” he said, but, as a student, he it is difficult to find a ride.

Students are often out late at night, Leon said, and the lack of bus service after 10 p.m. could cause Providence to lose business from non-residents who come into the city at night.

“There is a lot of disappointment in the community,” Spies said. The financial shortfall is simply a result of the “tough times we are in,” he added.

RIPTA Riders, a group focused on raising community involvement in the transport authority, began organizing protests in July to advocate increased state funding for RIPTA. The group distributed information sheets about the cuts, urged riders to attend board hearings and obtained over 1,000 signatures on a petition that members delivered to the offices of state leaders, said member Julian Park ’12.

“The budget crisis isn’t made by the board, but is passed down to the board by the state,” Park said. “The state has set up a self-defeating funding mechanism.”

The creation of additional hearings and the postponement of the decision reflect the success of public opposition to the proposal, Park said.

The RIPTA Riders “have been a great resource and provide us with unique insights into rider perspectives,” wrote Odimgbe.

“The goal is to try to minimize the level of service adjustments we will end up doing,” he wrote. The board is scheduled to address the issue at its Sept. 27 meeting.

 

— With additional reporting by Elizabeth Carr