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RIPTA bus driver shortage affecting Providence students, RI residents

Shortage reflects nationwide trend in lack of transportation staff, according to RIPTA

<p>Kevin Hoffman, a resident of Portsmouth, R.I., has been stuck waiting for buses two times in the past month, noting that “sometimes, buses don’t arrive at all.”</p>

Kevin Hoffman, a resident of Portsmouth, R.I., has been stuck waiting for buses two times in the past month, noting that “sometimes, buses don’t arrive at all.”

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers, affecting those who rely on the transit system to get to school, work or around town.

Issues with staffing have left many riders without their regularly scheduled buses, according to WPRI. This issue has been particularly severe for buses used by the Providence Public School District; it is unclear exactly how many students have been affected by the issue, but around 4,500 students in a given year generally request a bus pass.

Demi Egunjobi, an 11th grader at Classical High School, said that a majority of her friends take the RIPTA to commute to school. In the wake of the delays caused by the driver shortage, Egunjobi has begun to walk to school.

“It takes so long to wait, and when we do wait … it’s so crowded,” she said. Walking home takes an hour to an hour and a half for Egunjobi, but even this long commute is similar to how long a bus ride would take when factoring in the unusual wait times.

On Thursday morning, six school bus routes were canceled, and the previous day, five were canceled, the Providence Journal reported.

Barbara Polichetti, director of public affairs for RIPTA, wrote in an email to The Herald that RIPTA met with the division leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the union that represents Rhode Island bus drivers, “to discuss how to resolve recent bus service disruption for” Providence school students.

In the meeting, the union recommended that RIPTA “call upon former bus operators who are current employees in different roles to help transport school” students, but RIPTA has thus far not been able to recruit any former bus operators.

RIPTA offered a short-term solution to the driver shortage for students, allowing them to take any bus, even if it does not go to their school, and then transfer at Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence.

Egunjobi said that the delays have added stress to students’ lives. “If you’re waiting for the bus at 7:10 and it doesn’t come, … I’m automatically going to be late,” she said. “If you’re late too many times, you get detention.” 

Egunjobi has begun riding to school with her parents, but she takes the RIPTA on the way home, and she arrives home much later than usual, she said.

She added that many students, particularly younger students, may be unfamiliar with the RIPTA system, and they may feel overwhelmed by the long or canceled bus routes. “I can’t imagine being a freshman right now. I would actually be panicking,” she said. “There’s just so much pressure on top of starting high school.”

Kevin Hoffman, a resident of Portsmouth, said that the constant delays caused by the driver shortages negatively affect his daily life. 

“I get that there’s a shortage of drivers,” he said. “Why can’t they be transparent about it? You have an app, a website, a social media, … but they don’t tell us when there’s a delay.”

On their website each night, RIPTA announces disruptions and other service alerts for routes that will be affected the next day. These announcements and alerts are updated again in the morning.

Egunjobi said neither she nor any of her friends were aware of the RIPTA service alerts. She said students feel “blindsided” when buses do not arrive. Some students call an Uber, and others begin walking to school.

Hoffman has been stuck twice waiting for buses in the past month. “It’s frustrating,” he said. “I wanted to take the RIPTA up to Providence from Portsmouth so my wife could have the car for the day, and I ended up being over an hour late to meet a client.”

Sometimes, buses don’t arrive at all, Hoffman said. “People have had to spend money finding an Uber or Lyft, or spend extra gas money because of the shortage, and that just isn’t okay since it’s supposed to be public transportation.”

“People could get stranded or miss work,” he added. “It’s not a trivial thing.”

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Polichetti asked passengers to remain “courteous to … drivers” and fellow passengers if buses are delayed.



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