Greater City Providence

Odimgbe: Cut RIPTA bus service 10% to cover projected deficit

RIPTA buses passing each other on Washington Street in Downcity Providence

In order to cover a projected budget deficit and in response to the budget proposed by the General Assembly, RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe says RIPTA services will need to be cut by 10%.

Odimgbe quoted in the ProJo:

“I’m really very frustrated,” he told the authority board of directors. “I don’t know what else to do.”

“Seventy percent of our riders take the bus to work,” Odimgbe said. “That’s what’s so frustrating.”

$4.6 million defecit… public hearings… cuts in September to complete studies hearings and allow drivers to bid on new routes… blah… blah… blah…

I’ve written this damn post before, April 2010, January 2009, May 2008

I mean what is there more to say? While the Assembly was working hard to make sure we all call a Christmas Tree a Christmas Tree, the Coalition for Transportation Choices had a full legislative agenda to address the annual budget shortfall at RIPTA (and at RIDOT).

It is not like the budget shortfall should be a surprise for the Assembly, from my post last year, here’s the gist of the problem:

The situation is another in a series of fiscal crunches for the authority. It reflects a continuing paradox: as expenses rise, the revenue from a key revenue source, the state fuel tax, is fading. Also, the more successful the authority is at persuading drivers to take the bus, the less fuel they buy and the less money the transit agency gets. The same is true whenever gas consumption declines. The fuel tax is linked to the number of gallons sold rather than to the price.

The CTC’s legislative package addresses this. The Assembly doesn’t even have to do anything, they just need to stop talking about Christmas Trees for a minute, pull their heads out of their asses and vote.

I’ll pull this from last year’s post too:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That’s me, I keep writing this post every year and keep expecting the Assembly to pull their heads out of their asses and address this, and they keep keeping their heads in their asses.

Clearly, I am the one who is insane.

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.


  • Generally speaking, I don’t prefer fee or tax increases. But, given the situation it seems logical. If (and I don’t have data on this) it is true that declining gas tax revenues are in part because of a shift to utilizing RIPTA, then fares need to increase. I don’t think it should be a huge increase but a 10% increase isn’t outrageous. Or put up a 5% increase and a 5% increase on gas.

    What I would really like to see is a 3.33% fare increase, a 3.33% gas tax increase and a 3.33% reduction in the RIPTA budget. I guarantee you can find 3.33% to cut.

  • The bigger reason for reduction in gas tax receipts is more fuel efficient vehicles and the fact that the tax has not kept up with inflation. Making the tax a percentage of the price/gallon or pegging automatic increases to inflation would solve the latter but not the former.

    The VMT can be a much more nimble way to collect revenue. Cars with better mileage can be charged a lower VMT, or lighter cars can be charged a lower VMT, since their wear and tear on the roads is less. And so on.

  • Thanks Jef. Your post captured the frustration that I am sure many users of transit in RI are feeling. I just wish the state would make a decision on how to change the transit funding formula. Or, if not, just be honest and come out and say, “Transit just is not important to us.”

    To top it all off, Governor Chafee’s proposal to add 25 DMV staffers and 2 new branches is a slap in the face to RIPTA’s riders and just shows how much political pull automobile users and those associated with them have in our state. Maybe since Governor Chafee stopped living in Providence he has forgotten that a lot if us big city dwellers would prefer a choice about how to get around in our travels. Heck, I’m sure people in Pascoag would prefer a choice.

    Sorry for the rant, but I’ve ridden the system for 10 years and it’s been reports, followed by studies, followed by threats of cuts, followed by sighs of relief when there were no cuts, followed by fare increases. Stop the death by a thousand cuts, and make a decision about how to pay for transit.

  • i agree with all the above statements but have to say that i think there needs to be a fundamental change in people’s attitudes towards mass transit in this state. people don’t see it as a viable source of transportation and don’t even think to use it. or they think that using the buses is beneath them because it’s mostly used by poor people (not saying that’s totally accurate but that’s the attitude i’ve gotten from people around PVD). the lawmakers don’t use RIPTA, they have cars. the car is the first mode of transportation people think to use around here (although they never want to drive more than ten minutes anywhere).

    personally i don’t use RIPTA because i just brush it off as being unreliable and unaccessible. the argument could be made that RIPTA and the state could change that judgement by investing into the system and trying to erase that assumption from my and other’s heads. investment would include an easier way for getting tickets, scheduling info and maps. the most obvious fix? more service. more buses. if the state invests in making the transit more accessible, more people will use it.

    cutting services and sitting around waiting for riders to just start magically using RIPTA isn’t going to fix it. i’m sure all these things have been said before. seems like we’re all on the same page here…

  • Everyone reading this post should contact all the members of the House Finance Committee plus their local state rep and express opposition to any service cuts to RIPTA and insist that the General Assembly adopt the CTC formula or something similar for funding RIPTA, RIDOT, and local road maintenance.

  • Good call, Peter. I just left a message with my representative’s office. Hope more will do the same. Thanks in advance.

  • “i agree with all the above statements but have to say that i think there needs to be a fundamental change in people’s attitudes towards mass transit in this state. people don’t see it as a viable source of transportation and don’t even think to use it.”

    which is exactly why light rail is so important to build, this is the vehicle (pun intended) that gets people to look at transit differently as something desirable and that they can see themselves using. metro regions across the country (of lower densities) have built an initial light rail line and seen a change in public opinion and even a greater acceptance and ridership on the buses.

    transit can not be seen as solely a social service for only the poor, it must be seen as a public service for all.

  • Transit CEO says Rhode Island bus fares are among most expensive in New England [ProJo | PolitiFact]

    PolitiFact rates RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe’s claim, “We are one of the most expensive [bus] rides in New England,” as “Mostly True.”

    Politifact argues that RIPTA does indeed have the highest base fare, and highest monthly pass cost in New England, but says that our single fare makes it cheaper for some riders.

    PolitiFact argues that bus systems in Connecticut and Boston charge a premium for express bus services, as much as $5 in Boston. While this is true, in Boston express buses are just that, express, you get a faster ride with fewer stops for the premium price.

    Odimgbe said the agency has concluded that because most RIPTA riders travel within urban areas – an estimated 85 percent of rides within 7 miles of downtown Providence – it would not be worth creating a system to charge long-distance riders more.

    Imagine if there were only 4 or 5 stops on the Route 60 between Newport and Providence, that would be worth $5. Of course the flip to that is we do have some Route 54’s run express to Twin River on their way to Woonsocket and there is no premium charge for that.

  • Several points: with a $2 fare, a fare increase is not going to bring much more revenue, it is a natural resistance point, Indeed when RIPTA fares went from $1 to $1.25 they actually lost so many paying passengers, they lost REVENUE. This could well happen again.

    VMT taxes are hard to collect. Also, unlike the gas tax, out of staters wouldn’t pay. If our gas tax was raised just 1 cent (hardly anyone would notice though anti-tax zealots would make it an issue) it would be not add to collection costs and would be enough to cover RIPTA’s deficit, though admittedly not a long-term solution.

    Light rail can help improve the image of transit, but the overwhelming majority of transit routes would still be buses for the foreseeable future.

    $3 for park-and ride and other expresses is reasonable, and would produce a bit more revenue, “not worth the effort” sounds like inertia rather than good polocy making.

    Its very hard for transit to compete with “free” parking. It seems to me little will change unless employers (including the state of RI) level the field by charging for parking or subsidizing transit.

    I don’t agree RIPTA is “unreliable” – at least my route #57 keeps to schedule quite well.

    The whole thing is a good example of “tragedy of the commons” – everyone pursuing rsational self-interest drives if possible, but the result is pollution, congestion, and economic harm to all.

  • I am definitely one of those people who curtailed my riding after the last fare increase, and I’d say the trolleys have failed due to fare increases.

    I am fortunate that I can simply not ride, most of my trips actually don’t have a direct RIPTA connection as they are well within walking distance. However, when fares were lower, I wouldn’t give much thought just jumping on the trolley because it was there. Or coming out of the mall and waiting for the trolley, or taking a bus to a place I could walk to because I was feeling a little lazy. Now, I’m not paying two bucks to ride from the mall to Federal Hill unless I’m walking dead tired, or there is a monsoon in progress or something.

    The trolleys used to be much more of a convenience when they ran more often and had lower fares, now there are very few trips I make that I can’t walk faster than waiting for and sitting on the trolley, plus the not wanting to spend two dollars.

  • The problem is that same $2 fare that gets you from KP to Federal Hill will get you from KP to Newport.

    I would have no problem with the gas tax going up a penny either. While I have no problem with fare increases (I ride for free), I don’t think it’s a good idea unless they only increase the fare for outside the city. RIPTA needs to figure out a way to collect larger fares for people riding from Newport to Providence or even Warwick to Providence. Though that would probably just force more people into cars, unfortunately. Maybe they could get away with a slight fare increase for travel crossing city lines and a slight fare decrease for travel within the city limits.

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