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Photos and thoughts on today’s RIPTA Riders Rally

RIPTA Riders Rally
RIPTA Riders Rally today at Kennedy Plaza

This afternoon in Kennedy Plaza there was a rally of RIPTA Riders speaking out against proposed service cuts. The rally was well attended, probably 50+ people.

RIPTA Riders Rally
Channels 10 and 6 talking to RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe

I’m glad the Sierra Club of Rhode Island and others organized this rally and have been pushing hard on this issue, however…

I’ve had this thought in the back of my head throughout this whole service reduction process, and it is not a pretty thought, it is a thought about which I simply have to be blunt…

No one cares about poor people.

I mean, I do, and you dear reader, you do, and your friends and my friends do, but the Assembly doesn’t, and more importantly, the special interests who control what gets done on Smith Hill don’t.

RIPTA Riders Rally
State Rep. Art Handy speaking at today’s RIPTA Riders Rally

The Sierra Club’s campaign, and past discussions about RIPTA have often focused on those most at risk due to service cuts. The poor, the elderly, the disabled… You know what the loud mouths who comment on the ProJo think when they read that, Welfare.

Of course you and I know this is an unfair characterization of the service RIPTA provides. RIPTA is no more a form of welfare than Route 95 is or T.F. Green or the bridge work done to allow double decker freight trains to reach Quonset. Focusing on the poor and disadvantaged so much, though they are the ones most damaged by service reductions, is bad PR.

I hate to boil people down to that, but frankly PR is RIPTA’s biggest problem. What do people always cry about when they hear about RIPTA? “It is welfare for the poor,” “the buses only have one person on them half the time,” “half the people ride for free,” “the drivers are millionaires, lazy, rude..,” “Kennedy Plaza…” Bad PR.

RIPTA Riders Rally

In the media discussion (and the watercooler discussion) about RIPTA we rarely hear that up to 70% of rides are for people going to and from work. We don’t hear about the large number of, largely middle-class, employees at GTECH, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the hospitals who are enrolled in the Eco-Pass program. We don’t hear about the employees at colleges and university who commute via their school pass programs. We don’t hear about the middle-class families who are only surviving this economy because they were able to give up the burden of a second car.

We don’t discuss that Blue Cross Blue Shield’s transit planning allowed them to build an undersized garage at their site, keeping hundreds of cars out of Providence and off the roads daily. Maintaining and building upon a robust transit system will allow our future development in the Jewelry District to have similarly under-built parking facilities, allowing us to expand our economy while maximizing land use, and not inducing pollution creating traffic into the city.

This is economic development stuff, this is what the Assembly members, and more importantly, the lobbyist who drive the agenda on Smith Hill want to hear about.

How do we save businesses money? We build them a transit system so they don’t have to worry about parking. We build them a transit system that attracts talented workers to our city and state. We build a transit system that allows us to maintain clean air and waterways.

By all means, the Sierra Club and others must continue fighting for those who receive the most disproportionate hardship from these cuts. But the discussion about exactly what these kinds of cuts mean for our state and our society needs to be expanded and be more inclusive and honest.

Those in charge at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lifespan, Brown, and other companies that will now have to find (and pay for) parking for employees that will no longer have buses (or find new employees) should be speaking as loudly as those advocating for the poor and disabled.

The 21st century will be a very bad time for the Ocean State if we decimate our transportation system, and it won’t just be the poor and disabled who suffer.

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19 Responses to Photos and thoughts on today’s RIPTA Riders Rally

  1. RunawayJim August 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Jef… why aren’t you on the RIPTA board or working in their marketing department? 🙂

  2. carfreepvd August 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    PREACH!

    that’s all I have to add.

  3. Coryndon August 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Agree entirely but I would add an item: Bad for tourism. Tourist who cannot get around can’t get to the beach don’t spend money.

    I have said it before and I will say it again the GA cannot legislate its way out of a brown paper bag. Chronic shortsighted behavior that leads to massive cost increases and a shitty economy.

    Crap I sound like a projo commentator…

  4. Jason Brown August 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    I was one of those middle-class riders, going from Providence to Newport 3 days a week for five years. The #60 Route carries plenty of commuters each way through the East Bay. The people who ride know it, but I agree that the average Projo reader doesn’t.

    On projo.com, my favorite (and least favorite) comment about RIPTA was that it “ferries gang members to the beach”.

  5. Andrew August 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    We’ve heard the that the poor get thrown under the bus…well no more! The bus service has been cut.

    Seriously though, is there much federal money for busses and urban-scale public transportation the way there’s fed. money for highway construction, maintenance, not to mention tax incentives to drive?

  6. Jef Nickerson August 1, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Coryndon, yes, tourism too. The state is looking to consolidate the many disjointed tourism agencies across our vast land :facetious: A tourist board that covers everything from the Blackstone Valley to Misquamicut would be well served by a robust, easy to use, affordable mass transit system.

  7. Andria August 1, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    Hear hear! Every time I travel, I rely heavily on public transit and love it, yet when I come back to RI, I never take the bus. A lot of this is down to my ridiculous work hours, but I also just feel like it’s never going where/ when I need to go. I want to take the bus if for no other reason than to get out of my damn car and interact with this state’s colorful characters (and get some reading done).

  8. JBouchard August 1, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    For nearly 6 months, I took #60 from Providence to Newport and back, 4 days per week. What I noticed immediately, the number of people commuting as far as Bristol, Middletown, Newport on a daily basis. The ride from Providence to Newport alone, approximately 1-hour or more depending on traffic along 114, construction on the Mt. Hope, etc. It’s lengthy!

    Where I am still thoroughly confused: Why there is no express bus from Providence to Newport. And even more: why the fee is the same $2 to travel down a short stretch of Broad Street in Providence from the Cranston line, to the high schools (Classical/Central)…….as it is to drive nearly 35-miles to Newport.

    Just throwing thoughts out.

  9. Liam Blank August 2, 2011 at 2:45 am #

    Jbouchard:
    My exact thoughts! I take the 60 everyday to and from Middletown. I especially need the 60 for school transportation to and from La Salle on Smith Hill. There is an ‘express’ bus to Newport (bus 14) but it only runs a handful of times throughout the day… and the ride is just about 5 minutes longer than the 60 route. RIPTA can not have an express route to Newport that goes East Bay because RIPTA is self-insured, meaning they cannot leave the state, which is required when traveling to Newport via I-195. However, I do agree that something needs to be improved with this route especially. Many business people and students ride this bus. The proposed service cuts are going to affect this route the most, seeing that many Salve and Roger Williams University students ride this bus to and from the city and they no longer will be able to after 10pm. RIPTA’s new logo should be “We support drunk driving” seeing that bars close at 1am and a taxi to Newport would be well over $80.

  10. Peter Brassard August 2, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    Another rally needs to be organized for when the General Assembly is in session at the State House with not 50+ people, but a 1000+ and for more than a one day event.

    A different way of looking at the General Assembly’s and Governor’s lack of response is that it’s not that they don’t care about poor people, it’s that they care more about the people with the loudest voice and who pay the highest taxes (car sales tax and registration fees). Agreed that RIPTA has weak public relations, which also contributes.

    Though politically unpopular to challenge, the 25% of riders that ride for free should be required to pay a portion of their fare.

    Example: 25% of the fare would equal 50 cents a trip. If RIPTA has 25,000,000 passengers annually that would translate to 6,250,000 riding for free. 6.25 million x 50 cents per ride would equal $3,125,000 in added income to RIPTA.

    RIPTA’s current shortfall is around $4,600,000. If the current free riders paid 50 cents fares, service cuts could be less drastic than what’s currently proposed. If they paid a little more there would be no need for cuts.

  11. Jack August 2, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    That’s a powerful and sincere stuff. Ditto on everything.

  12. Chris O'Leary August 2, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Can someone – an insider, perhaps – enlighten me on who actually “rides for free?” I know the disabled and seniors’ rides are fully reimbursed by the state, and that college students and employers’ rides are reimbursed by their respective institutions.

    I tend to agree that everyone should pay something (in New York & Boston, seniors and the disabled pay a “reduced fare” regardless of income level), but I’m clueless as to what that would actually generate for RIPTA. But if RIPTA moved to a “reduced fare,” it would be a win-win: the state agencies reimbursing these rides would save money, and RIPTA would generate fare revenue.

    I’m also a fan of moving back to a zoned system for fare collection, so someone riding the #60 from Newport to Providence would pay more than someone riding it from, say, Newport to Middletown or Bristol to Barrington. Which brings me to another insidery question: is the current fare collection system set up to support this? Could we have a two-zone system where people board and pay a fare, then pay a surcharge – maybe $1 – as they disembark in another zone?

    Just thinking out loud here.

  13. Liam Blank August 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    The zones tend to make a lot more sense and there is proof that it works great in cities like Portland that have the new and improved Metro transit system. I believe that any buses that are traveling within Providence, Newport, and Warwick should pay an ‘Inner Zone Fare’ (maybe $1). Then, say I want to travel from Providence to Newport, I would pay an ‘Outer Zone fare’ of $2 (or maybe more). It would also be more convenient if RIPTA allowed one to purchase their bus fare before boarding at a kiosk of some sort or maybe online even.

  14. Peter Brassard August 2, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    During the presentation of the Metro Transit Study at URI Providence there was a comment/complaint regarding RIPTA’s policy that opposes fare zones. I’m not positive, but I believe that there’s a fear within RIPTA that if multiple zones were reintroduced, suburbanites would be less inclined to use the system. It may be true.

    Given the current budgetary problems it’s remote that there could be a one-dollar fare within any city zone, thought it would encourage ridership, as well as overcrowding.

  15. RunawayJim August 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    I am sure that if zones were introduced those commuting from outside the inner zone would be less likely to use it, or they’d drive to a park and ride within their zone. You have to make it worthwhile… cleaner, more pleasant buses… quicker trips with fewer stops (more express routes)… and don’t make the increased fare ridiculous.

    Get rid of the seniors and disabled ride for free. They should absolutely pay less, but it shouldn’t be 100% free.

    Oh, and within the inner zone, they can’t decrease the cost down to $1. That would have to stay at what it is now. But they can most certainly charge only $2.25 for the next zone, $2.50 for the next, and so on. Make it a small increment. Multiply that by hundreds of riders a day and you’ve got a nice bit of extra money that doesn’t cost a whole lot more.

    Finally, those college students on U-Pass should ride for free within a single zone, unless the college pays more to allow it to go anywhere in the state. Otherwise, they pay the difference. So say you go to RISD. You ride within Providence’s zone (maybe that also includes Pawtucket, Cranston, parts of Warwick and North Providence and East Providence too) for free (the college paid for it for you). If you leave the zone, you pay the difference.

  16. Towne Street August 4, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Bus 9 riders, lawmakers defend threatened mid-day route at hearing

    I wonder if Senator Paul Fogarty’s sentiment is the pervasive General Assembly view on the RIPTA cuts. Blame RIPTA for not informing them about the risk of cuts rather than looking in the mirror. Shows the lack of procative action on transit by legislators.

    Fogarty took Therrien to task for not alerting the General Assembly to the agency’s dire straits before the state budget was approved in June.

    “You told us service cuts would be the last thing you would do SLps We go along with what you say and you said everything is going to be all right, and here we are, the governor’s signature is barely dry on the budget and we’re talking about cuts. How can you do that? Why weren’t we advised?”

    By KRISTIN RUSSO, Valley Breeze & Observer Correspondent
    August 3, 2011

  17. barry August 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    I think opposition to zoned fares is based on not that much revenue to be gained (management) and too much trouble (drivers.) RIPTA once had 5 zones, including a low-cost “short-zone” around downtown Providence, but most riders were within zone 1. I’ve been suggesting as a first step the cash fare on park-and-ride express buses be $3 so little on-and-off to keep track of, leave everything else, including monthly passes, the same. Not much revenue, but I think part of a package that might help when the legislature considers what to do.

    Some kind of zone fare is alsoneeded to give ADA riders incentives for shorter trips on the (expensive) van or taxi rides.

    The free rides for low income elderly/disabled are legislatively mandated, would need to be repealed by the Assembly.

    My general view is RIPTA should clean up its fare policies, take steps to reduce costs (e.g. work rule changes??) and then go to the Assembly and Governor to get supplementsl budget help to avert most of the proposed service cuts. Long term of course there needs to be a funding stream that grows with inflation and needs, no easy task, but RIDOT has the same problem, they need to work together.

  18. Jef Nickerson August 23, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    [icon name="external-link "] RIPTA decision on possible service cuts delayed until September [The Providence Journal]

    The board of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority on Monday postponed a decision on major service cuts until September.

    [RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe] said he is in negotiations with the unions representing the authority’s drivers and mechanics. He said he applauded the unions for negotiating

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