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RIPTA gets wheels turning for new downtown bus hub

‘Innovative’ central bus terminal to modernize Providence bus system, McKee says

<p>Proposals for the new transit center are due in April and the funding for the project is unfinalized. </p>

Proposals for the new transit center are due in April and the funding for the project is unfinalized.

Gov. Dan McKee announced plans for a new bus hub in downtown Providence on Jan. 13. According to the press release, the hub will replace Kennedy Plaza as the primary bus depot in the city and will be located at the intersection of Dorrance and Dyer streets, just outside the Jewelry District.

The announcement was followed by a request for proposals, released Jan. 17, seeking bids from private developers to partner with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to build the new center over the next several years. The RFP was released by RIPTA and outlines the goals of the project. 

“We don’t want it to just be a transit hub,” said RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian. “We want it to be more than that, so we listened to all of our riders.”

The current plans describe the hub as a “mixed-use” development that will include transit, retail, RIPTA administrative offices and residential spaces. 


“It will have affordable housing. It will have restrooms, an indoor waiting area … and a place for some kind of police presence. That's sort of what is lacking at the moment,” Avedisian said. “We envision nothing short of a world-class transit center.”

Avedisian also cited the possibility of lockers, bike racks, charging stations for electronics and retail locations, such as a coffee shop.

Proposals for the new transit center are due April 17, at which time Avedisian said RIPTA will have a better idea of the timeline for the project. The funding for the project is unfinalized, but Avedisian said that RIPTA has applied for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants from the federal government, the winners of which will be announced in June. 

Barry Schiller, co-founder of Rhode Island Transit Riders — an organization that advocates for the improvement and expansion of public transit — expressed various concerns about the location of and motivation for the new center. 

“Kennedy Plaza is near more things of interest for people coming downtown,” such as City Hall and the Providence Place mall, Schiller said. “What's Dorrance Street near that's going to draw people?”

Schiller described how one reason for moving the hub may be because some stakeholders near the plaza may not “want the buses and mostly low-income passengers right in front of their property.”

Avedisian said he believes the new location represents a compromise between various interests.

“I think there are always competing interests. And what we’ve tried to do is balance them all out,” Avedisian said. “When we look at where the growth (is) happening in the city, it's all happening in the Jewelry District and in the Innovation District.” Avedisian noted that the new center is still close to downtown, remaining accessible to those near Kennedy Plaza and local colleges.

Schiller stated that Rhode Island Transit Riders is not entirely opposed to the new hub and that the new location has the potential to be more “cheerful” and “welcoming” than Kennedy Plaza is now. He added that the organization wants the public to be involved in the new terminal’s implementation and design process.

At Kennedy Plaza, frequent bus rider Queen Latifah Taylor expressed that larger facilities and security would be important to her in a new hub.


“With the viruses we are dealing with, we don't want to all just be clustered and closed in,” Taylor said. “We want to have some space, and with that expansion, more bathrooms as well.”

She stated that she does not always feel safe at Kennedy Plaza. “I have to look around (and) hold my purse,” said Taylor, saying she hoped security cameras could be included with the new location.

Rider Zizi Spangler added that she would like to see improved cleanliness in a new facility. “There's a lot of stuff that’s on the ground, and it doesn’t really get picked up,” Spangler said in regard to Kennedy Plaza. 

Advocates such as John Flaherty, deputy director of Grow Smart RI, an organization focused on sustainable economic development, hope that the new facility will offer improvements over Kennedy Plaza.

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Flaherty said that he believes the Providence train station and airport currently boast nicer facilities than Kennedy Plaza and expressed excitement over the possibility of a better hub for bus riders.

“When it comes to bus travelers, they've always gotten the short end of the stick,” Flaherty said. “I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a big advance for transit in Rhode Island.”

In particular, he expressed hope that the new center would be able to "incorporate some services that are desperately needed to assist people." For Flaherty, the project "is a way to actually be more proactive" and make resources available to those that need them, he said. 

Avedisian said that the hub would still serve many routes even after the development of the new center. “You will still be able to board the bus …  and you'll still be able to exit the bus” at Kennedy Plaza, he said, explaining that service to square will be approximately cut in half once the new center is completed.

Avedisian was hopeful about the eventual reception of the center. “I think we will show people that we have listened and that we understand what they want.”

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