Greater City Providence

RIPTA hires new CEO, Charles Odimgbe

ProJo has the details about the RIPTA Board’s appointment of Charles Odimgbe as the CEO of the state’s public transportation agency. CEO is a newly created position for the agency, RIPTA’s current General Manager, Alfred Moscola will report to Odimgbe.

ProJo reports that Mr. Odimgbe is a native of Nigeria who started as a bus driver in Portland, OR in 1985. He worked his way up the ranks and is now the General Manager of the company which runs CAT, the transportation agency in Savannah, Georgia. CAT is a considerbly smaller agency than RIPTA with 235 employees and an $18million budget to RIPTA’s 842 employees and $100million budget.

Mr. Odimgbe wants RIPTA to be a “one stop shop” for transportation in Rhode Island, a phrase that has been coming out of RIPTA a lot recently. He hopes to bring the commuter rail operations, which currently fall under RIDOT, over to RIPTA (the commuter rail is run by the MBTA under an agreement with RIDOT). He is also looking to streamline RIPTA’s operations and make the agency more efficient.

Board Chairman John Rupp wants to see RIPTA support the state’s economic development, realizing that a good transit system is attractive to companies and talent that are looking to relocate.

Odimgbe will be looking to raise more money for RIPTA. He’s already floating the idea of a sales tax for transit (very brave man):

RIPTA has been bedeviled by funding shortfalls from the state gasoline tax as revenue flagged with a reduction in driving. Odimgbe mentioned the sales tax as an alternative revenue source, having successfully pushed for a sales-tax initiative in Canton, Ohio, where he headed the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority from 2000 to 2009.

We don’t know too much about Mr. Odimgbe yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about him right? That’s what the internet is for. The fact that he started out as a driver seems like a big positive to me. He has an understanding of labor, and has actually interacted directly with buses and the riding public. He seems to be on all the right talking points, of course the interview process probably helped that since they are the same talking points that have been coming out of the agency for a while now. He seems not to want to reinvent RIPTA from scratch, saying RIPTA’s staff is “doing a wonderful job.”


Image from The African Community Yellow Pages

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • As long as they’re thinking I really think we should find the money to run at least three streetcar lines in the city of Providence. Obviously their beloved Meds and Eds route that benefits Brown University pretty much exclusively but I’ll add a couple.

    One would span off Meds and Eds and head down Broadway and into Olneyville and perhaps down Manton or Hartford for a short stretch.

    The other would run through lower South Providence to the north end of the city, including the State House, and onward up Charles almost touching Pawtucket.

    We can do it. If we could spend close to a billion dollars to relocate a section of highway, we can spend one quarter to half that amount and give Providence a decent public transit solution.

  • I wonder what RI commuter rail under RIPTA would look like. Has anyone heard any proposals or anything? Having MBTA trains extend down to Warwick seems to make the most sense to me. It allows for continuous travel from Boston to T.F. Greene. Does RIPTA want to take over the entire route south of Boston? More control in RI would be nice, but I feel like we should go with what works for now.. Getting another transit agency on the NEC sounds like a hassle.

  • Tom: I think at this point, Odimgbe just wants RIPTA to manage the relationship with the MBTA which is currently managed by RIDOT. Nothing would change in operations of the commuter rail. There have been some communication problems with the current arrangement from what I understand. Such as RIDOT negotiating with MBTA to bring trains to T.F. Green but never consulting with RIPTA about how buses would serve T.F. Green and integrate with train service. And though RIDOT is changing, they are still very much road builders, building intermodal connections is still a new concept for them.

    Eventually, we may have commuter rail in the Blackstone Valley and perhaps on Aquidneck Island, and current service may extend as far as Westerly. At some point having the MBTA operate our in-state commuter rail will stop making sense and RIPTA will have to be the operator.

    RIPTA also is seeking to work directly with the MBTA on a combined fare system. I.E. one would be able to buy a fare card in Rhode Island which would work on RIPTA, the Commuter Rail, and MBTA subway and buses, and vice versa. It does not make logistic sense to put RIDOT in the middle of those discussions, which would be the case now.

    I think long term, MBTA will always be the operator of the system from South Station to whatever southerly point we eventually end up with.

  • Thanks Jef, that makes a lot of sense. RIPTA is much more in tune with transit operations than is RIDOT. They probably have a keener understanding of the little details (integrating fares, etc.) I don’t know how MBTA would feel about giving up the route from South Station to the southern terminus but if and when it extends to Westerly, it might make the most sense to have that whole part operated from a RI agency.

  • From Q&A with Charles Odimgbe, new CEO of RIPTA by Kimberley Donoghue:

    “PBN: What do you think of the streetcars?

    ODIMGBE: The question that I would ask Rhode Islanders is: Is the intent of the streetcars to improve tourism in Rhode Island? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we need to push forward. The funding has to be some kind of a public-private partnership.”

    I do not understand this answer. Part of the theoretical benefits of a streetcar line is that its more permanent nature makes it more likely that development (residential/commerial) will happen adjacent to it. This type of development would be more likely to benefit Providence’s residents and workers. Is he saying that the needs of Providence’s residents and workers will be a lower priority than tourists in terms of a decision to build the streetcar lines? It would be very shortsighted to base a decision and plan a streetcar line only on tourists and not take into account the needs of riders who will use the service every day.

  • What Mr. Odimgbe appears to be saying is that Rhode Islander’s will have to decide, if streetcars will improve tourism and if tourism would be improved that would be the only pretence to pursue a streetcar transit mode under his leadership. Additionally, only partial funding would come from RIPTA, the state, or the federal government and remainder would have to be paid by the private sector.

  • The private sector is largely behind the push to build a streetcar line in Detroit. Of course, even with Detroit’s well known problems, they have many more Fortune 500 companies than we do. I wonder where we would look in the private sector for funding.

  • He may not have meant exactly what he said, but he makes a good point in that tourists flock to streetcars like flies to shit. Remember, a great deal of people get their first impression of a city by being tourists. It’s a very good way to ensure those streetcar lines remain heavily used and, therefore, well funded and maintained. I also have yet to hear anyone say to me “downtown Providence is sterile and overrun by tourists.” Lets face it, we could use some more of them. It’s true that whatever we build should be designed to serve the entire population, but if the system is made tourism friendly, the city is much more likely to spread a positive image of itself, and attract people with different ideas who may not otherwise visit.

  • With all due respect, I would hate a great economic development opportunity go to waste due to the tunnel vision of state transit and government officials. One only has to read the Metropolitan Transit Enhancement Study to see the benefits of such a streetcar system and tourism improvement is only a small part of it.

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