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Multi-hub bus proposal faces Title VI complaint

Community organizations file Title VI complaint against controversial proposal to split up Kennedy Plaza

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Some Providence community members believe the main bus hub should remain at its current location at Kennedy Plaza.

A Title VI complaint has been filed against the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s multi-hub bus proposal in order to halt the plan, which some community members interpret as discriminatory.

The proposal from RIDOT and RIPTA would add three new bus hubs throughout downtown Providence in order to reduce traffic at the current Kennedy Plaza hub. Concerns about the proposal include higher fares, increased transfers and longer travel times, according to President of the South Providence Neighborhood Association Dwayne Keys, who is one of the complaint’s filers. 

According to Keys, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees equality for public transportation services and requires that federally assisted programs be non-discriminatory. The complaint claims that RIDOT and RIPTA violated these protections by failing to consider the effects of the new transportation plan on riders who are part of historically marginalized groups, low-income or have physical disabilities.

The purpose of the Title VI complaint is to have RIDOT “cease and desist” their plan and “agree to conduct a robust community engagement process and assess the impacts of these proposed changes,” Keys said.

Construction on the new hubs is expected to begin this summer. Charles St. Martin III, chief public affairs officer at RIDOT, said the complaint “has been filed prematurely” and that an analysis is underway to ensure that the proposal complies with Title VI.

According to Keys, part of the funding for the project comes from bond money approved by voters in 2014 for transit-oriented funds and improvements. He believes that “these funds are being used to address everything that’s not transit-related.”

Keys added that riders generally agree “the main bus hub should remain” at Kennedy Plaza.

Grow Smart RI Deputy Director John Flaherty, another filer of the complaint, said the current Kennedy Plaza Hub “provides a single central location that affords easy access.” 

Some riders, like Edilberta Trejo, view the multi-hub plan as inconvenient for riders with small children, riders with disabilities, riders who are elderly and even riders carrying shopping bags. 

Patricia Raub, coordinator of RI Transit Riders, said riders who want to go downtown will probably not end up at Kennedy Plaza and instead “are going to have to walk from one of the hubs to the other” or “make a transfer that they wouldn’t (normally) have to take.” She added that “while it is not a long walk for able-bodied people,” it will not be as easy “for someone who is elderly, who is disabled (or) who is a parent with a small child.”

For Trejo, adding more hubs will create more chaos. She believes that the multi-hub proposal will make the transportation system more inaccessible and financially burdensome on riders, and invited RIDOT officials to “walk around Kennedy Plaza and see what is going on there” to understand what riders face on a day-to-day basis.

The interim bus hubs that will be in effect for the next few years, prior to completion of the proposal, are also a cause for concern among riders. Raub expressed doubt that there would be bus terminal buildings, which offer restrooms and shelter from the weather, at these interim hubs.

Others, like Flaherty, are concerned that the proposal was created without riders’ input. “They’ve done nothing that I can see to engage the public,” Flaherty said.

Raub stated that this is uncommon for RIPTA, which usually holds multiple meetings with the public at different stages of new plans. But when the proposal was revealed last July, she said it was well fleshed out, despite not including public input.

Since the proposal was revealed last year, there have been multiple community events protesting the multihub proposal. The Providence City Council passed a resolution Sept. 3 in opposition to the multi-hub proposal.

Some action groups, such as RI Transit Riders, have requested Gov. Gina Raimondo to intervene but have received no response, according to Raub. Flaherty hoped that if Raimondo is confirmed as U.S. Commerce Secretary, as governor, Lt. Governor Daniel J. McKee will examine the plan more closely.

St. Martin said that RIDOT “does not anticipate changing our work schedule.”

Flaherty is hopeful that the complaint will make RIDOT and RIPTA go back to the drawing board and construct a better proposal — “this time with the public having a seat at the table.” 

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