Greater City Providence

RIPTA’s magical mystery budget


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.

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.


  • I didn’t see anything in the President’s speech excerpt that mentions gambling and lawyers.

  • You mean Obama doesn’t think its a good idear for us to depend on a regressive poor tax as our third largest source of income? Like we should actually be creating stuff that people and the world need as a way to generate our income?

  • For public transportation to be viable in RI, we need a system where it doesn’t take an hour-plus to go anywhere that’s not Kennedy Plaza.

    I took my car into the shop for repairs a few months back in the city of Providence. Getting a bus to take me to a city that borders Providence, but was on the other side of KP, was an 1:05 trip at the shortest.

    I’d be willing to take public transportation a few times a week, if it didn’t mean turning a 15-minute commute by car into something very much longer.

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