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Transportation tussle: RIPTA riders and community organizations push back on RIDOT bus hub plan

Community members worry about longer transit times, increased on-foot transportation

It takes Edilberta Trejo one whole hour on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority every day to travel from her home to the library where she works. 

Trejo says this isn’t unusual for transit riders like her, and she worries that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s new proposed multi-hub plan will lead to lengthier trip times and more transfers.

The transit plan, put forth by RIDOT, would break up the current bus hub at Kennedy Plaza into three separate bus hubs spread throughout the downtown Providence area. The money to fund this plan will come from a $35 million transit bond, The Herald previously reported. 

“The multi-hub system is designed to attract new riders and provide service to future employment centers,” RIDOT Chief of Public Affairs Charles St. Martin wrote in an email to The Herald. “This includes the strategy to attract new riders by locating each hub in closer proximity to areas projected to have increases in new housing and businesses.” Two of the hubs are expected to be located at Providence Station and on Dyer Street.

“The Multi-Hub plan is being developed in parallel with plans to modify and electrify the bus system as a way to provide a better rider experience,” he added. 

But some long-time riders believe the plan will make their RIPTA experience worse.

For Elaine Heebner, a Rhode Island resident who has been using RIPTA long before Kennedy Plaza was first used as a hub back in 1983, the plan just doesn’t make sense. 

At first, Heebner was uncertain about the hub at Kennedy Plaza. “We all felt a little uneasy about it. But once we started using Kennedy Plaza, it was so obvious that it was very convenient, no matter where you were going.” Heebner said. “I don’t like the idea of potentially having to take a bus to get to the bus that I’m actually taking.”

“It’s really better to have a single bus hub rather than multiple bus hubs,” RI Transit Riders Coordinator Patricia Raub said. “It makes everything easier. … If buses are coming in one place or another, it becomes more difficult for passengers to know where to transfer to get onto another bus.”

Others were concerned about the accessibility of the new hubs, even though RIDOT maintains that they would be within a short distance of one another. 

“I’m really thinking about other people who would struggle, … people who have a hard time walking, or need a wheelchair,” Trejo said.

Community members have rallied to push back on the plan. In a Sept. 30 Providence City Council Committee on Urban Redevelopment Renewal and Planning meeting, 21 people spoke in opposition to the plan, and, as of Oct. 8, 868 people have signed a petition asking Governor Raimondo to withdraw the plan. 

What infuriates transit riders the most is how much input they had in the project — which was none at all, Grow Smart RI Deputy Director John Flaherty said.

Riders “have not been involved in the development of the plan,” he said. “The plans are being developed largely by people who don’t use transit, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that plans that they come out with don’t meet with the approval of people who use transit.”

“It’s not just the stops and the inconvenience of transit riders,” Rochelle Lee, an educator who uses the RIPTA as her main form of transportation, told The Herald. “It’s a principle of process and how we conduct infrastructure that’s for everybody. We can’t have three people making decisions for 50, or 100, or 200 (people) … True experts on the trains are the bus drivers and the transit riders. So when you talk about $35 million or any kind of money, … talk to patrons, talk to transit riders,” Lee added.

And it’s not just transit riders that are frustrated by this plan and the way it was conceived; city advocacy groups like Grow Smart RI, The Providence Foundation and the Providence Preservation Society have all come out with letters of opposition. 

The Jewelry District Association also joined the opposition. 

“We were told out of nowhere on July 22 that we were going to inherit (a bus hub) in a Zoom call,” said Jewelry District Association President Sharon Steele. “So that was our first notice that the Jewelry District was going to get 47 percent of the Kennedy Plaza bus service, and on that call we were told that the stakeholder outreach would end at the end of July.”

Steele felt that the window for stakeholder outreach was too short. She added that one of the proposed hubs that would be on Dyer Street is too small to handle the volume of transit that would be required. 

“I really can’t give you one fan out of how many stakeholders I speak with literally multiple days every week,” Steele said. “I can’t find one person.”

But according to St. Martin, RIDOT has worked to incorporate community input: “In each iteration of RIDOT’s plan, we have listened to stakeholders and refined the plan accordingly.” 

The transportation tussle is far from over. 

“Our number one goal is to persuade the governor to have RIDOT back off on this plan. Just stop it now. And let us have a more thoughtful planning discussion of exactly what would be best for Providence and for riders,” said Raub, RI Transit Riders coordinator. 

“It seems like it's just an ordinary custom to include people who are going to be the end users, but for whatever reason this proposal has not done that,” Lee added.



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