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RIPTA Ferry, FINALLY!

newport_bridge

Barring some other crazy unforeseen circumstance, RIPTA’s Newport-Providence “water taxi” service is a go for tomorrow.

The service will feature 5 roundtrips per day between Providence Piers (180 Allens Avenue) and Perrotti Park in Newport. The 50 passenger water taxi is smaller than the ferry used for last year’s service. The water taxi does not have a snack bar or rest room facilities (so make sure you go before you go). Due to the loss of the federal subsidy, the fares will also increase to $28 roundtrip for adults.

Service will operate through October. Fare and schedule information at: RIPTA.

18

Parking Sign FAIL

lasalle-sq-parking

Sigh. Where to start, let’s start at the top.

“No Parking Here to Corner”

First, why do we need this sign on every corner? Most other municipalities make this plain with yellow markings on the curb. Second, RI General Law § 31-21-4 states that there is no parking or stopping “[w]ithin twenty feet of a crosswalk at an intersection.” The city has a $25 fine for parking within 25 feet of a corner [section 15.2]. This sign is not 20 feet or 25 feet from the corner of Aborn Street (or is that Don Imus Way?) , so why is the sign here?

“Handicapped Parking Permit Required”

Well, no problem with that really. The disabled may not like being referred to as handicapped anymore though, Differently Abled Parking maybe?

“RIPTA Bus Stop”

Oh, wait a second. I’m not finding the actual law that prohibits parking at a bus stop (and the bus stop sign does not say “No Parking”) but there is a $30 fine for parking at a bus stop [section 15.2].

So, is it a handicapped parking space within 25 feet of a corner or is it a bus stop? All uses are wrong, and a bus stop and handicapped parking sign can’t exist in the same space, especially not within 25 (or 20, take your pick) feet of a corner (though a bus stop could exist within 20 or 25 feet of a corner). FAIL.

But all of this is moot, wanna know why?

lasalle-sq-truck

BECAUSE THERE IS A GIANT TRAILER PARKED HERE!

Wha!?

Gee, wonder if the bus driver can see me as I stand behind this giant trailer. DOUBLE FAIL!

0

House holds nose, maintains status quo at RIPTA

gas pumps

Photo by vistavision from Flickr

A newish group called the New Public Transit Alliance has been lobbying to get more equitable and reliable funding for RIPTA. Yesterday, the House voted to approve a 2¢ hike to the state gas tax to help RIPTA close it’s budget gap. RIPTA’s current deficit is oscillating due to several factors, but currently stands around $10 million. The new gas tax is projected to bring in $8.8 million earmarked to go directly to RIPTA.

While the House voted for the tax, it did not pass without a few hissy fits from the members. As reported on the ProJo Blog, “Rep. Brian Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, labeled the budget proposal ‘somewhat offensive’ to people being asked to pay an extra 2 cents a gallon for public transit that is not available to them.” I would point out to Rep. Kennedy, that there is a Park n’ Ride in Hopkinton at Exit 1 off Route 95. His constituents have express bus service via Route 90W at the amazingly low price of $1.75. The same price it costs me to get across town.

Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt, D-Woonsocket, preferred to see the gas tax money go toward restoring the $55 million in revenue sharing for cities and towns that was cut from the budget (RIFuture is doing good reporting on how the Assembly could actually restore the revenue sharing). Rep. Hunt was quoted by ProJo as saying, “RIPTA’s house is a mess. All we are doing is feeding a junkie.”

I invite Rep. Hunt to read the independent audit of RIPTA published recently which shows that the agency is well run and uses it’s revenue quite efficiently compared to it’s peer transit agencies. As with everything, there is room for improvement, however Rep. Hunt shows her ignorance when classifying RIPTA as a ‘junkie.’

Majority Leader Gordon Fox while defending the need for the gas tax was no more informed than his colleages were. Again, from the ProJo: “It’s about people’s mobility…It is about keeping the state moving.”

Yes, OK. You’re right, good:

“So go down there and picket RIPTA. Go down there and demand that some of those people down there maybe shouldn’t be employed. Friends of friends. Family of friends. Family of family… But the one thing you are doing with this one is you will put people literally on the street, on their feet. And what does that mean to their quality of life?”

Sigh. The last thing RIPTA needs is Gordon Fox encouraging people to grab their pitchforks and march on their headquarters.

People have proven through their actions that they want to see a well run dependable transit system in Rhode Island. When gas hit $4/gallon last summer, RIPTA was flooded with new passengers. Of course as people stopped driving, gas tax collections went down, just as RIPTA was dealing with a massive influx of new passengers. See a problem here? This two penny increase in the gas tax will plug RIPTA’s budget hole and let it avoid cutting routes and raising fares (which are already quite high compared to other agencies it’s size). But if gas prices go up and people leave their cars, we’re going to be right back where we started from.

Also, this simply maintains RIPTA’s current service levels. Demand for buses last summer proves to us that RIPTA has to grow. It needs more buses serving more areas to serve more people more efficiently. The metropolitan area needs to develop more services such as lightrail, streetcars, and bus rapid transit. This two penny tax gives RIPTA no room to allow itself to grow.

Another proposal for funding would change the gas tax from a cents per gallon arrangement to a % per gallon arrangement. This would result in the taxes per gallon collected rising with the cost of fuel. So if people drove less and turned to RIPTA, RIPTA would still be bringing in more per gallon at the pump to allow for it to absorb the increased demand. Alternately, the gas tax could be pegged to an inflationary measure, so that it would rise and fall automatically according to that benchmark. This would allow future members of the Assembly an out whereby they would not have to be seen as raising taxes when in effect they were simply trying to make the tax match inflation.

Ultimately, the members of the Assembly and the general public need to see the value of RIPTA and stop the knee-jerk disparagement. If members of the Assembly actually learned what RIPTA is, how RIPTA is run, who RIPTA serves, and how important a robust transit system is seen by business leaders across the country, maybe we could stop playing the RIPTA Financial Crisis game every year up on Smith Hill and actually start working on moving our transit system and our state into the 21st century.

10

You can haz RIPTA Ferry!

RIPTA Ferry

ProJo reports that we will have ferry service between Newport and Providence this summer after-all.

Dubbed the Providence-Newport Water Taxi on RIPTA’s website the service will use a smaller vessel than we’ve become used to. The 46-passenger catamaran will be operated by Ocean State Shipbuilding Inc. of Brooklyn, Connecticut (why Ocean State Shipbuilding is based in the Nutmeg State… I do not know). The company has no experience running a ferry service, but won the bid due to not requiring a state subsidy.

The smaller ferry (the prior ferry carried 149 passengers) will make the trip in the same amount of time, however it will only run 5 round trips per day from June to September (and drops to 3 trips per day through the end of the season in October).

Though the service is smaller, I am happy we’ve not lost it all together, and even more happy that a way has been found to run the ferry and not take money from RIPTA’s bus service (which would be a non-starter for me). Still, I can’t help to again point out how short sighted it was for us to be in this position. The ~$500,000 federal subsidy that made the ferry possible to begin with was always slated to end, it is disappointing that RIPTA had no plan on what to do when that eventuality finally came to pass.

14

You can get there from here?

RIPTA Ferry

Could the Providence-Newport Ferry rise from the dead and return to service this summer? RIPTA is hoping to make it work. As the Journal reports, RIPTA has issued two RFPs. One asks ferry companies to bid for a no-subsidy service. Likely this would be fewer trips and a shorter season than we are used to. The other RFP asks ferry companies to quote what subsidy they would need to provide the previous level of service.

RIPTA announced last year that the ferry would not return this summer due to the end of a half million dollar federal subsidy. At the time I said it was rather short sited of RIPTA not to plan for the end of a subsidy that clearly had an end date. I also questioned how there could be absolutely no way to find a half million dollars to make up for the lost subsidy (of course this was before the economy ‘sploded).

I don’t know where RIPTA is hoping to find the funds for the subsidized RFP, but I hope they can make it work. The ferry was a vital piece of our tourist economy and it is madness for the Ocean State to not have a public ferry service utilizing Narragansett Bay.

4

RIPTA Hybrids

I’ve heard this was coming and ProJo reports about it. RIPTA is looking to use stimulus money to purchase hybrid gas/diesel buses. The hybrid buses cost about $200k more than the $380-400k RIPTA pays for regular diesel buses, however fuel economy, savings on maintenance, and the longer life span of the hybrid buses lead to an overall savings over the life of the buses. RIPTA has wanted to move over to hybrid buses for some time, but has never had the money to do so, the stimulus plan provides an opportunity to start switching over the fleet.

According to ProJo, RIPTA has not decided how many of the hybrid buses they will buy yet, but they are expecting as much as $36million in stimulus finds which must be spent on capital items, like buses. RIPTA plans to place an order for new buses within the month.

la_metro_hybrid

Los Angeles Metro hybrid bus. Photo by Metro Library and Archive from Flickr

Wouldn’t it be wicked cool if we got sexy space buses like the one above from Los Angeles?

Likely though I imagine we’ll get ones like the Orion VII series, seen below in New York.

nyc_hybrid

New York City Transit hybrid bus. Photo by Michael Perlman from Flickr

RIPTA will also be buying new trolleys for Providence. Hopefully they’ll be less craptacular than the existing trolleys.

Personally I’d rather see some smaller bus with low-floor easy boarding, comfortable seating, working suspension, working heaters and air-conditioners, that can operate when more than half an inch of snow falls… you know, nothing like the trolleys. This Los Angeles DASH shuttle below painted up with some neat-o graphics would do the trick.

la_dash

Los Angeles Metro DASH Shuttle. Photo by Metro Library and Archive from Flickr

1

Better RIPTA maps

31o

I was looking up a RIPTA route online today and I found the above map on the page for the Route 31 schedule. As you can see, this is an actual geographically accurate map, you can see where the stops are in the real world. Not the annoying line maps they had before:

30o

Thank Jeebus! I all the time had to have a Google Map open and the RIPTA map and try to compare the two and figure out which street was where… They seem not to be rolled out to all schedules yet, but I like the direction.

MBTA bus maps have been like this forever, but the MBTA maps still go one step further than the new RIPTA maps. The MBTA maps have other bus lines on them, so you can see which routes go nearby your destination. Looking at the the RIPTA map at the top of the page, you wouldn’t know that the Route 30 bus goes through the Brewery Parkade area.

057map.FH9

But looking at this MBTA map, you can see that the 57 and 57A go to Oak Square, but so does the 64, 501, and 503.

2

RIPTA’s magical mystery budget

RIPTA

The Providence Journal reports today that RIPTA’s budget deficit has now shrunk from $12 million to $1.3 million. Well, that’s good.

A combination of savings, advantageous swings in the petroleum market and extra funds from a variety of sources has wiped out most of the budget deficit that once threatened to take away 20 percent of the service on the state’s bus system.

While it is still unclear how RIPTA will fill the remaining $1.3 million hole, RIPTA General Manager Alfred J. Moscola said that if fuel costs stay where they are now, that $1.3 million could shrink further (so if gas goes back up the hole opens wider I assume???).

Climbing almost out of the hole is a relief if it means we will avoid the proposed draconian cuts in service. However, the ways in which this hole has been filled are not sustainable; dumb luck on fuel prices are apparently a big part of it, also deferral of funding medical plans for retirees, service cuts to 47 routes last November, not filling vacant positions, reducing the frequency of trash collection, a magical $2.2 million the Governor found in his back pocket, putting off repairs, internet advertising, lottery sales (not to mention that we didn’t even try to get together the $500k needed to keep the Newport ferry running)… These steps are working to fight off a budget crisis, but RIPTA has been in a budget crisis for years.

If we are to maintain the level of service we have and expand the system to include the services we need (including an eventual light rail/streetcar system for the metro area), we need to find a funding system that averts annual budgetary disaster. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

The annual RIPTA budget process seems to go something like this:

  1. Throw some numbers against a wall and call it the budget
  2. Realize RIPTA cannot operate within that budget
  3. Devolve into a maelstrom of recriminations and accusations
  4. Threaten service cuts and layoffs and fare increases
  5. Gamble with livelihoods as routes are cut and fares are raised and people are laid off.
  6. Find some magic money somewhere to stave off the bleeding
  7. Repeat next year

Change has come to America, but has change come to Rhode Island?

President Obama said last week in his Inaugural Address, “our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.” Are the Governor, the General Assembly, the Mayors of our cities and towns, and are we, the citizens, the taxpayers, the makers of things, ready to face the unpleasant decisions, to set aside our narrow interests?

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

Let us stop taking short-cuts, stop settling for less, stop throwing numbers against the wall hoping they work. Let us do the hard work it takes to have the fully functional, prosperous state we deserve.

4

Bus Shelter Snow Shoveling Answer

Mary Ann Barbary from the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority generously answered a question I emailed her about a topic that came up several weeks ago here on the Greater City Providence…

When it snows, who is responsible for shoveling the bus shelters? Here is the answer:

Lamar Advertising owns and maintains THEIR bus shelters which are clearly marked with their name and the side advertising panel. Lamar generally removes the snow from their bus shelters in a timely manner. They do NOT remove snow from the sidewalks.

Thank you for the clarification Mary Ann!

1

RIPTA Hearings on proposed fare hikes

Board Votes to Hold Public Hearings on Proposed Fare Increases
RIPTA’s board of directors voted at it’s April 7th meeting to hold public hearings on proposed fares increases.

Sharp hikes in the cost of fuel are behind the fare increase proposal.

“Unfortunately, we have to seek fare increases to compensate for some of the steep increases in fuel costs. Fuel costs have more than tripled since FY 2002 when we paid on average 87 cents for a gallon of fuel. We’re now averaging about $3.27 a gallon for the current fiscal year. Fare increases won’t absorb the full impact of the higher cost of fuel, but they will help, said RIPTA General Manager Alfred J. Moscola.

If approved, the proposed fare increases would raise the base fare from $1.50 to $1.75 and include the following changes:

Fare Media Current Proposed
Base Fare $1.50 $1.75
Seniors/Disabled (off peak) $0.75 $0.85
Cash Transfer $0.10 $0.50
RIPTIKS (10) $15.00 $17.50
15-RIDE Pass $20.00 $23.00
Monthly Pass* $45.00 $55.00
(*increase would apply to July Monthly Passes that are purchased in June)
ADA (RIde Program) $3.00 $3.50

Here’s the public hearing schedule:

Thursday, May 8, 2008
University of Rhode Island
Feinstein Providence Campus
Room 260
80 Washington Street
Providence, RI 02903
Time: 2 pm-4 pm & 6 pm-8 pm

Friday, May 9, 2008
Warwick City Hall
Council Chambers
3275 Post Road
Warwick, RI 02886
Time: 2 pm-4 pm & 6 pm-8 pm

Friday, May 9, 2008
Narragansett Town Hall
Assembly Room
25 Fifth Avenue
Narragansett, RI 02882
Time: 2 pm-4 pm & 6 pm-8 pm

Monday, May 12, 2008
Newport Pubic Library
Program Room
300 Spring Street
Newport, RI 02840
Time: 2 pm-4 pm & 6 pm-8pm

Monday, May 12, 2008
Barrington Public Library
2nd Fl. Auditorium
281 County Road
Barrington, RI 02806
Time: 2 pm-4 pm & 6 pm-8pm

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