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RIPTA to reduce formerly proposed service cuts, community members weigh in

At hearing, speakers cite concerns over decreased bus frequency, routes

Over the past few weeks, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has held public hearings across the state, giving community members the opportunity to comment on the association’s plan to reduce formerly proposed service cuts.

In February, 11 statewide public hearings took place, according to RIPTA’s Director of Service Planning and Scheduling Ed Brown. Across those hearings, over 300 attendees voiced their concerns over RIPTA's original plan to eliminate and reduce weekday and weekend service on 33 regular bus routes, he said. 

RIPTA’s updated proposal includes a significant decrease in the number of routes to be eliminated. 

But the decrease in bus frequencies and routes, as well as segment elimination along those routes, are still cause of concern amongst community members as they consider the reliability of public transportation in the state. 


Over 52,600 passengers use RIPTA every day, according to the agency. But only 8% of Rhode Island residents have access to a transit service that runs at least every 15 minutes, which frequently leads to long waiting times and unreliability for passengers who use public transportation as their main means of travel. 

In January, RIPTA announced a list of service changes, citing the reduction in statewide service as a consequence of a driver shortage. 

Initially, RIPTA proposed the regular service elimination of 11 routes, including Route Qx, which connects workers in Providence to Quonset Business Park, and Route 76 and 80, which will now merge into a new Route 70. 

The other nine routes slated for elimination were the “lowest performing” routes in RIPTA’s system since they carried “an average of 0.4 to 5.1 passengers per trip on weekdays,” according to RIPTA’s presentation at the hearings.

RIPTA raises drivers’ wages and postpones cuts

Amid the February public hearings, RIPTA’s Board of Directors reached an agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union Division 618 to raise the starting driver wage from $21.71 to $25.33 per hour, according to a press release. 

On March 14, the agency announced that it would postpone service changes until June 15, which were initially planned for  early April. 

At an April 18 hearing at the Pawtucket Public Library, Ed Brown explained that the postponement gives RIPTA “additional time to monitor things, re-look at what we decided in February and try to do the best we can to preserve more service.” 

Since the wage increase, RIPTA has received over 200 applications for drivers, RIPTA’s Director of Communications Cristy Raposo Perry wrote in an email to The Herald. According to Raposo Perry, “RIPTA would need to hire approximately 30 new drivers to maintain current service levels and avoid service changes.” 

But, due to the eight-week period before hired drivers can begin driving for RIPTA, the agency is “unable to provide a timeline for reinstatement of service changes,” she added.  


“We still will have canceled service because we still don't have enough drivers to run the service that is scheduled today,” said Ed Brown.

Lingering public concern at April hearings

Around 20 community members attended the meeting at the Pawtucket Public Library last Thursday. Nearly every attendee spoke during the public comment period, voicing concerns that RIPTA’s plan to make service cuts less severe would still have a large impact on their everyday lives. 

Rep. Jennifer Stewart (D-Pawtucket) attended the hearing because she is “interested in the well-being of Pawtucket as a city” and believes “that the well-being of our residents here will be harmed and compromised by any of these cuts.”

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Stewart also expressed skepticism over the state achieving the climate goals it has set out, especially if “the number of people driving has to grow because they can not rely on RIPTA’s service.”

Numerous attendees also made comments stating that driving in the state has recently become more difficult because of the demolition of the I-95 Washington Bridge, which has led to heavy congestion and traffic delays, The Herald previously reported. 

“If you don't want to drive or you can’t drive, you shouldn’t be forced to drive,” said Timothy Jewett, who attended the hearing. He, his wife and toddler recently moved to the Oak Hill area of Pawtucket because they wanted greater access to bus lines in their neighborhood.

The bus service Jewett expected to use is now proposed to be cut. “It is unacceptable, in my opinion, because not everyone can afford to own a car … my wife needs the bus to get to childcare appointments, and for general activities like going to the beach, or grocery shopping,” he said. 

Diane Lamarre, a worker at a packaging company in Pawtucket,  said she “doesn't know what (RIPTA) is thinking, starting buses later and eliminating all of Columbus,” off of route 80.

Lamarre currently takes the bus at 6:50 a.m.. If the service changes are approved, the new route 70 will not begin weekday service until 7:10 a.m. — too late for her to get to work on time.

Though RIPTA did not cite a lack of funding as a reason for service cuts, several community members suggested that to be the reason for the service changes, not the bus driver shortage.

RIPTA is currently dealing with a $18-million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year, according to The Providence Journal. In March, Rhode Island State House legislators introduced a $78 million bill to help RIPTA get back on track and achieve many of the goals set out in its Transit Master Plan, a detailed outline of the agency’s service and environmental goals passed by the State Planning Council in 2020, The Herald previously reported. 

Randall Rose, a transit activist for the Kennedy Plaza Resilience Coalition, expressed concern about RIPTA’s budget during the meeting.

“This is not the cause of some driver shortage that came out of nowhere,” Rose said. “State leaders are not willing to provide the funding for RIPTA that reflects the benefit RIPTA provides: allowing people around the state to get where they need to go and helping the environment.” 

John Flaherty, the Deputy Director for Grow Smart RI, said that “The only way that RIPTA is going to grow ridership among non-riders …  is to increase convenience, frequency and trip times. We’re moving in exactly the opposite direction with these cuts,” he added. 

Some community members expressed hope about the potential of the hearings to effect change. “Things can change … even in bureaucracy. The wheels can (turn) toward our way when we are given a chance to speak,” attendee Daniel Blanchette said at last Thursday’s hearing. 

RIPTA officials will bring the revised service changes to the authority’s board now that the public hearings have commenced. If the board approves these changes, they will go into effect on June 15.

Sanai Rashid

Sanai Rashid was raised in Brooklyn and now lives in Long Island, New York. As an English and History concentrator, she is always looking for a way to amplify stories and histories previously unheard. When she is not writing, you can find her trying new pizza places in Providence or buying another whale stuffed animal.

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