Greater City Providence

Series of public meetings coming up to look at RIPTA COA

East Side Trolley Tunnel

RIPTA bus entering tunnel at Thayer Street. Photo Sean_Marshall

RIPTA has been performing a Comprehensive Operational Analysis of the transportation system over recent months and is no preparing to present their findings to the public at a series of meetings starting February 25th.


RIPTA to Host Community Meetings to Present Potential Changes to Bus System

February 18, 2013

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is urging the public to provide feedback on how to improve transit services in Rhode Island. As part of a statewide review of transit services called a Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA), RIPTA staff is hoping to hear from both users and non-users of the system.

“As part of this study, RIPTA has been working to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our bus system, and to determine where we might redirect resources to better serve our customers and attract more riders to our network,” according to Mark Therrien, AGM of Planning at RIPTA. “Public input is a critical part of this process as our goal is to put service where it would best serve the people of our state.”

The study has undertaken a detailed review process to identify where people live and work, how each bus route is performing today, and where changes might possibly be made to better serve riders. Ideas under consideration can be found on the Projects page of RIPTA’s website. Members of the public can go online to review and provide comment on two alternative service scenarios, letting RIPTA know which ideas they like best. Each scenario is designed to work within RIPTA’s existing budget, and the intent is to direct transit resources where they would be most effective. Community meetings taking place February 25th through March 6th are another opportunity to learn more about proposed changes and for the public to provide input on what might work best for them.

Public input has been a key part of the COA. In August and September, RIPTA surveyed nearly 10,000 users of the bus system in order to better understand where people need to travel, and what type of services they desire. Throughout the fall, over 700 people posted comments on RIPTA’s website, providing feedback on detailed evaluations of each bus route. RIPTA staff will submit specific final recommendations for improving the statewide transit network based on comments collected from the public.

“With the public’s help, RIPTA can better design our statewide transit network to support our passengers and attract more riders,” said Mayor Avedisian, RIPTA Board Chairman. “We expect the results of this study will make our service easier to use, faster and more convenient for our customers.”

Community Meeting Schedule

Providence Meetings in RED

[box style=”red”]University of Rhode Island • Feinstein Providence Campus – Auditorium
80 Washington Street • Providence, RI 02903
Monday, February 25, 2013 • 12:00PM – 2:00PM[/alert] [alert type=”muted”]Warwick City Hall • Council Chambers
3275 Post Road • Warwick, RI 02886
Monday, February 25, 2013 • 5:00PM-7:00PM[/alert] [alert type=”muted”]Narragansett Town Hall • Assembly Room
25 Fifth Avenue • Narragansett, RI 02882
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 • 5:00PM-7:00PM[/alert] [alert type=”muted”]CCRI Newport Campus • Auditorium
One John H. Chafee Blvd. • Newport, RI 02840
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 • 5:00PM-7:00PM[/alert] [box style=”red”]RIPTA Headquarters
705 Elmwood Avenue • Providence, RI 02907
Thursday, February 28, 2013 • 5:00PM-7:00PM[/alert] [alert type=”muted”]Glocester Senior Center
1210 Putnam Pike • Chepachet, RI 02814
Monday, March 4, 2013 • 6:00PM-8:00PM[/alert] [alert type=”muted”]Barrington Public Library • 2nd Floor Auditorium
281 County Road • Barrington, RI
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 • 6:00PM – 8:00PM[/alert]

To learn more about the COA, please visit the project website. To sign-up to be part of the project mailing list, please email

See also: The Providence Journal: A proposal to improve service

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  • So I read their scenario document. One thing that struck me is they want to stretch out city stops on high volume routes to 900 feet, but suburband routes to 650 feet.

    Um, no, screw you if you chose to live in suburbia.

  • I can kinda see the reasoning behind that. On the urban routes, it’s easier and generally safer to walk a bit farther, but you may actually get more frequent service if they aren’t stopping as frequently. On the suburban routes, stopping more frequently may increase ridership. People likely think “oh forget that, the bus stop is all the way down there,” but if the stop was closer, they’re more likely to get on. There’s also generally less traffic in the suburbs being tied up by buses stopping. I know on Chalkstone with parking on both sides of the street, when the bus comes, especially during peak times, there’s on getting around it.

  • Wickford Junction: In Wickford, express bus service could be relocated from the Route 2/102 park and ride lot to Wickford Junction Station. This shift would be to facilitate the use of commuter rail in one direction and RIPTA express bus service in the other. In addition, Route 14 West Bay would be rerouted via Wickford Junction Station to provide local connections.

    However, note that neither scenario includes new feeder service to Wickford Junction Station, as the demand for such services is too low to achieve minimally acceptable productivity and costeffectiveness levels. It should also be noted that neither scenario would provide coordinated transfers with all or most train trips. This is because commuter rail schedules are irregular, and it is more important to design service for the large majority of bus passengers who would not transfer to commuter rather than the much smaller minority who would.

    The potential to actually encourage growth in usage and demand appears to be entirely outside of RIPTA’s imagination. Not to mention, there are already five weekday Providence Line trains (Designated #8801~8805) that only run Wickford Junction – T.F. Green Airport – Providence, and there’s plenty of room on the line to increase and normalize that service if the “irregular” schedule is truly the only problem. The scheduled time to make the trip is 35 minutes – 1 tph each way is well within the realm of possibility.

    Amtrak’s hands are pretty much tied on service expansion for the foreseeable future. If RIDOT’s serious about South County Commuter Rail, now’s the time to get their foot in the door.

    I should also note that for all the sweet talk about running more buses into commuter rail stations, fare integration continues to be conspicuously absent from the project plans.

  • Fare integration is on RIPTA’s radar, unfortunately the RITPA farebox does not play well with the Charlie Card requiring a capital expense to upgrade RIPTA’s fareboxes.

    There also needs to be a lot of thought into how the systems would integrate. Would MBTA riders get a discount or free transfer to RIPTA buses or vice-versa? Who pays for and how do they pay for these discounted or free rides? Can a RIPTA pass get you on MBTA subway and buses too, how? Who pays? What about parking?

    As for RIPTA’s role in Commuter Rail ridership, RIPTA did not build this station, RIDOT did, and the problem of RIPTA and RIDOT being fully separate organizations is now becoming apparent. As Peter pointed out in another post, it makes little sense for someone in South County to use Commuter Rail if they are only going to Providence:

    The train takes 25-minutes costing $3.25 one-way (or about $2.40 one-way with a monthly pass) ?
    Parking: $4/day (or about $3.44/day with a monthly parking pass)
    Minimum daily total: $8.24

    The #65 express bus takes 29-minutes costing $2 one-way (or about $1.35 one-way with a monthly e-pass)
    Parking: Free
    Minimum daily total: $2.70

    If RIDOT had scheduled a meeting with RIPTA before building this station, this issue would have quickly become apparent. Wickford Junction only really makes sense for people commuting to Boston, where the longer commute eats up more of the commuters gas money and parking is expensive.

    As for feeder service, we’ve seen the fact played out time and again, people do not like transfers. So, a South County commuter has to make their way to a bus stop (on foot, by bike, park and ride, drop off..?) equals one transfer. Ride the bus to the train station, two transfers, arrive in Boston perhaps get on a bus or subway or at the very least have to walk to your final destination, three transfers. Each transfer with some amount of dwell time and the nagging fear of missing your transfer.

    People, especially suburban people, do not find that at all attractive. Driving to the station, parking, riding the train, then maybe making a transfer to another mode of the T is about the limit of what most suburbanites are going to do, and that has to be driven by the economics of just driving direct versus the rail commute.

    Now, with express buses routed through Wickford Station, at least the RIPTA park and ride is using the garage and it is not left to go to waste, however with ample free parking in Downtown Providence, RIPTA has to provide free parking at Wickford Station, while the MBTA riders pay. How do we make having two-classes of parkers in the station work, and how can we provide free parking for RIPTA when the operator of the garage demands to be paid?

  • Now, if we had anything in the way of Transit Oriented Development at the Wickford Station area, and there were real live people who lived there and could walk to the train, then taking the train to Providence becomes much more attractive, even if it still costs a bit more than riding the bus.

    There’s also the perennial question of how much an express bus to South County should cost. Maybe if the express bus and commuter rail fares were at parity, more people would use the train. Then RIPTA could redirect the resources for operating the bus elsewhere.

  • Fare integration is on RIPTA’s radar, unfortunately the RITPA farebox does not play well with the Charlie Card requiring a capital expense to upgrade RIPTA’s fareboxes.

    As it turns out, the Charlie Card doesn’t work on the Commuter Rail, either. The immediate solution is to make RIPTA tickets valid fare – $2 towards the cost of your ticket on a connection. It’s $3.25 for a one-way out of Wickford? Show your RIPTA ticket or pass and pay $1.25 instead. Easy. We don’t need to worry about the “lost revenue” yet because having a six-car train with six people total riding it is a much bigger loss of operating capital than any number of people getting on board with a discounted fare – much like the free parking question at Wickford Junction, we might as well get something since we’re paying for it either way.

    At a full 105 to 110 minutes for the average trip from Wickford Junction to South Station, and never less than 90 minutes, I’d argue that the trip doesn’t make sense for Boston commuters, either – certainly not when there’s likely cost parity on driving up to Providence and taking the train from there instead, where there are far more options for trains and the travel times are less on the average. You’re paying for parking anyway, why not at the mall?

    Wickford’s firmly within Providence’s commute range, anyway. Even if it did make sense as an option for commuting into Boston, the trip in the opposite direction does not, and neither does it make any sense for the MBTA to continue running trains that far outside of their district no matter how much we’re paying them to do so. Providence is the natural end point of the Providence Line, but service to T.F. Green Airport is useful enough for both Providence and Boston to keep around on a limited (every other train sounds about right) schedule. There’s no such excuse available for Wickford Junction.

    Obviously, at this point, the writing on the wall couldn’t possibly be any clearer – Wickford Junction is going to fail and close within a year. I can feel confident in my prediction of that now. There will be no train out of Wickford Junction to speak of at this time in 2014. The sooner we admit defeat before that, the better off we’ll be when it comes time to reposition ourselves for building actual, useful rail expansions – which will now be that much harder for having the failed Wickford Junction station as baggage. I can’t say I’m particularly happy with this outcome, but what else can we do? It seems that all apparent plans to increase utilization have failed.

  • Ryan, The situation with the Wickford station is indeed disappointing to say the very least. However, the outcome you’ve suggested is not guaranteed. Fare integration, increased fares for express bus routes, extending promotional free parking, and rerouting bus routes to the station should be considered. A good old fashioned marketing push with radio and TV ads wouldn’t hurt. Time will also help with increasing ridership. The first year at TF Green Station ridership was similarly low.

    You may be onto something though, suggesting that multiple car double-decker trains sets might be better not extend to Wickford. I would add possibly even to TF Green, if an alternative of new Intrastate train service were introduced to replace it. A single or pair of DMU car(s) could be used with regular headway frequency, which could be every hour or hour and a half. A proposal like this would be a variation on suggestions from the Providence Foundation Intrastate Rail 2009 report. The main advantage of regular Intrastate service would be for access to TF Green from Providence, but would also help Wickford with a regular schedule. Intrastate passengers could transfer to Boston bound trains in Providence or visa versa.

    There are a lot of reasons why Wickford was not the best place to locate the latest train station, but as it has been said before, it’s already built and everything possible should be done to support it for it to be at least modestly successful. If the station were to fail as you suggest, it could be the death nail for Rhode Island commuter rail expansion.

  • This post was about hearings on Ripta’s COA process, not commuter rail, a very small part of Ripta’s operations (though many good points were made about the mbta service)
    On the whole, I think the RIPTA COA proposals are a step in the right direction: redeploying resources where there is more passenger demand while still keeping a pretty much statewide presence; ending lightly used deviations that add time and cost; increasing frequencies on key lines (such as Hope St;) extending some lines for better connections (such as #33 Riverside to connect to #60 in Barrington;) regular instead of irregular intervals between buses; more express sevices (such as on Prov-Newport) better spacing between buses where routes overlap.

    Since those who do lose service are likely to object, I think transit advocates should by and large defend the COA for doing the greater good with limited resources. That said, objectors have to be listened to carefully, they may have a point RIPTA overlooked, and , each line has potential to be tweaked for the better. I for one object to losing run-thru service on all the north-side lines (50, 55, 56, 57) that serve the train station, the mall, and the State House area – it means more transferring at the Plaza (to be minimized) and more difficulty in marketing those important destinations with one-seat rides, and less flexibility for passengers.

  • Peter, T.F. Green Airport’s ridership was low for most of its first year in part because there were far less round-trips daily. The precise number of daily trains into T.F. Green for most of the first year escapes me, but it’s either 3 or 5 round-trips – less than half of what it and Wickford have today. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason, but I don’t doubt that it played a major role in keeping T.F. Green’s numbers from growing quickly.

    I’ve suggested, multiple times now, both here and in actual submissions to RIPTA, that rerouting service into Wickford Junction should happen. There’s no point to double-serving the corridor represented by the vicinity of Wickford Junction – Providence with a train and an express bus that arrive in roughly the same place at roughly the same time. We know that people don’t like transfers and will generally avoid them, but the decision becomes a lot murkier when it becomes the choice between “single-seat ride at 90 minute frequencies” or “one-transfer ride at 30 minute frequencies.” 30 minute frequencies from Wickford to Wakefield, Wickford to Newport, and Wickford to URI – all ~25 minute drives – is more than doable if those buses are able to reach Wickford and turn around instead of having to make the rest of the journey to KP.

    But you’ll forgive me for being extremely pessimistic when every single time, I say that we’ve got to do something, I criticize RIPTA for treating the commuter rail like direct competition when it should be one of our greatest assets, and the people who are nominally on “my team” – other transit advocates – reply with statements like barry’s.

    No, the COA proposals are not a step in the right direction. No, commuter rail shouldn’t be treated as “a very small part of RIPTA operations.” NO, we shouldn’t defend RIPTA for making statements like “we’re not even going to bother trying to coordinate with the commuter rail” no matter what their justifications are for doing so.

    I understand that Wickford Junction failing essentially screws us out of any further regional/commuter (read: non-Amtrak) investments for the next 20 years at least. I don’t want Wickford Junction to fail, I’m not going to be dancing on the rooftops celebrating when it fails, but I do expect it to fail. We have to be in damage control mode now – either trying anything and everything we can to bolster the ridership numbers, or preparing our statements for how we can justify Wickford’s failure and move past it when it comes time to re-open the discussion for stations in Pawtucket and Cranston and for the Woonsocket Commuter Rail line. I’m not even going to talk about South County anymore, because I know that Wickford failing takes down with it any potential that there will ever be commuter rail in Kingston or East Greenwich, and the only commuter trains out of Westerly will be pointed due west for New London.

    There is no option here that lets us ignore what happens to Wickford Junction, and there’s no option for solving Wickford Junction that doesn’t require, at the very least nominal involvement from RIPTA. Most of them, in fact, require strong involvement from RIPTA.

    So, if we want to take away from this that RIPTA shouldn’t be involved in the commuter rail, that’s fine. However, we have to accept that if RIPTA does not get on board, there soon will be no commuter rail service with which to get involved.

    And when Woonsocket Commuter Rail is officially canceled, and when the plans for new stations anywhere in Rhode Island evaporate, and when Wickford’s garage is closed and sold off, I’m not going to be happy about it – but I am going to be right here, saying that I told you so. Now is our only chance to prevent that from happening. We won’t be getting another one.

  • Your impression of RIPTA’s relationship with the commuter rail is wrong.

    If RIPTA viewed commuter rail as nothing more than competition than it would not be RIPTA who is running the Wickford Wednesdays program.

  • Considering that the Wickford Wintertime Wednesdays program is a desperate attempt to look like somebody’s doing something rather than an actual promotion with any hope of capturing new ridership (the free parking instituted through some time in march by Governor Chaffee and RIDOT is a more legitimate promotion for Wickford Junction with an actual chance of capturing new ridership and surprise, surprise, RIPTA’s notably absent from that press release), they go to great lengths to drum up an apparently-good reason (irregular scheduling) in their COA proposals to explain why there’s no attempt to coordinate with commuter rail beyond maybe taking advantage of their stations, and the route they chose to reroute into Wickford Junction is the poorly served 14 that has to go farther out of its way than the better-served 66 would and the 14 already links up with the commuter rail at T.F. Green anyway…

    Yeah, I’d say my impression of RIPTA’s relationship with the commuter rail is actually pretty accurate.

  • I should also note that rerouting the 14 is likely not going to be a permanent change if it even happens at all – much like “Wintertime Wednesdays,” there will be little to no turn out for the new stop which will be summarily dropped from the schedule for adding too much time onto the 14’s trip. More likely still is that it made it into the proposals for the express purpose of being objected to, because it’s a bad idea but it makes a convenient scapegoat for “see? The riding public doesn’t want buses going to train stations. Well, you spoke and we listened!”

  • Ryan, I agree with Jeff you are completely wrong that Ripta is not trying to work with commuter rail. They are proposing for example rerouting the #6 and #11 buses to the Providence station and improving bus signage there. They have reached out to the actual operators of the mbta commuter rail to discuss how to combine fare structures. They have prepared a combined schedule of buses and trains to T F Green, the first time this has ever been done. They are proposing increased service to South Attleboro and are trying to get permission to actually cross state line to do so effectively.
    As for Wickford Jct, they have a reasonably good idea there too, though it drprns on permanently free parking there. Tipta’s idea is not to have buses feed the teains, Peter has clearly explained why that cannot work, but basically use some Wakefield express #65 (formerly 66) to stop at Wickford Jct to supplement the train service, so folks there can make round trips by whichever mode best suits their schedule. THis would have a chance to be really helpful.
    That said, only 5 (6 with Westerly) of Ripta’s 5000 bus stops are at train stations, and the large bulk of RI transit riders will be on a bus for the foreseeable future no matter what we do.
    Finally, I enourage all interested in this to attend at least one of the COA hearings coming soon, and support what you think are good ideas there while proposing better ones whenever possible.

  • Barry, they’d be distributor buses every bit as much as they’d be feeders. Why is it so unreasonable to assume that people wouldn’t want to travel to any of South County’s beaches, Wakefield, Narragansett, Newport or URI by a combination of train and bus? Again, it’s true that people tend to dislike transfers, but I’m not so sure why it’s taken as established fact that a transfer would instantly disqualify any potential rider from taking a potential trip, and I imagine that the state’s beaches and Newport are both entirely untapped markets.

    They’re proposing combined service to South Attleboro, but they’ve outright stated that convenient commuter rail connections won’t be a part of it. They’re preparing a combined schedule for T.F. Green, but I can’t imagine that it’ll emphasize fast or frequent transfer opportunities when RIPTA has so much as stated that any of those will happen by coincidence only. (They’re also dropping the #8 due to “low ridership” caused primarily by there being all of 6 round-trips a day from two different origin points plus an extra seventh outbound.)

    They’re routing the #6 and the #11 onto Gaspee Street – a consolation prize for the complete loss of all through-routing on the 50/55/56/57 that you yourself pointed out. Sure, there will be more opportunities to transfer, but now more transfers will inevitably be required – not to mention, going back to the untapped market that is Newport, a through-routing of the 55 and 60 would have been the best way other than direct service from Wickford to connect Newport to the Commuter Rail, but oops, any chance of that happening is gone now too.

    And I find it interesting that RIPTA pooh-poohs services in South County as being unviable even as they introduce a brand-new numbering for the former 66 Express and emphasize it as a valuable commuter service. I find it interesting that they pooh-pooh enhanced connectivity between bus service and rail service in the same breath as they propose rerouting the 14 and tacking at least 10 minutes onto its trip. Again, the elephant in the room is that rerouting the 66 is a 90-second detour and both the 66 and it’s newly distinct offshoot see far more service than the 14. So why not reroute them? Why choose the less frequent, less well performing corridor with a larger detour over the more successful, more frequent, far closer one? Forget even that the 66 proceeds onto URI via Kingston Station, the next stop on any further southbound commuter rail extension, and could already be demonstrating demand for South County Commuter Rail – whereas there’s no potential for such tie-ins on the 14? The only two explanations are hopeless incompetence or planned failure, and I’m genuinely not certain which one I’d rather it turn out to be.

    By the way, RIPTA claimed Quonset wouldn’t able to support bus service, either. I’ll give you three guesses as to which bus route just so happens to be serving Quonset, and the first two don’t count.

    RIPTA’s behavior is absolutely in line with an organization that is merely trying to give the impression of support for commuter rail – at best because they don’t understand why people seem to like and support the idea that maybe there doesn’t need to be modal warfare between mass transit providers in Rhode Island, and at worst because they themselves have bought into modal warfare and seek to deliberately undercut and dismantle their “opposition.”

    Incompetence or malice. Neither of those are things I want to see out of my state’s public transit agency.

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