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Proposed RIPTA/RIDOT merger draws criticisms

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Although initially thinking that a RIDOT/RIPTA merger might be a good idea, “in the ensuing years I think RIDOT has done nothing but break the trust of people who rely on modes of transportation outside of cars,” said Liz Burkin. “It’s not worth entering into a consolidation agreement when public input has been so consistently denied.”


Since the announcement that Governor Gina Raimondo has ordered state transportation leaders to look into the possibility that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) be merged with the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), there has been little chance for the public to comment on the idea. That changed on Wednesday during a RIPTA Board meeting that featured RIPTA Board Chair Normand Benoit and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti.

The Rhode Island Transit Riders, an independent grassroots group that has come together to preserve, expand, and improve public transportation in Rhode Island have called the proposal “worrying,” adding, “RIPTA would lose most of its autonomy, and RIDOT would become in charge of Rhode Island’s public transit system.

“While we have not always agreed with RIPTA’s policies, RIPTA has made a point of holding hearings before implementing changes to the bus system and has made an effort to work with RI Transit Riders. RIDOT, on the other hand, seldom asks for public input. Its recent proposal to disperse buses away from Kennedy Plaza is a case in point, as it announced this plan with NO prior public hearings.”

At the public hearing we learned that it is not only riders concerned about the merger, but RIPTA’s unionized employees as well. Though the potential merger was not on the board’s schedule, during the public speaking portion of the meeting, all but one person testifying objected to the idea.

The first to speak against the merger was Kevin Cole, who read a letter from Thomas Cute, business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 618 and 618a.


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“The ATU 100% oppose what we feel is an unwarranted take over attempt by the DOT, and the Union has scheduled a vote “‘NO TO THE RIDOT MERGER PALN,'” read Cole.

Here’s the letter:

Valerie Bacon works in RIPTA’s planning department and is a member of LIUNA 808. She noted that RIDOT Director Alviti had shown workers there his plan to, “take RIPTA over.” As part of the presentation according to Bacon, Alviti talked about grant money RIDOT could go after that RIPTA has neglected to seek out. Bacon asked waht grants these might be.

Though told be RIPTA Chair Benoit that he was under no obligation to answer a question posed during public comment, Alviti answered, but provided no specifics. Alviti began by noting the increase in the number of and the dollar amounts of grants RIDOT has applied for and received in recent years. “We’re seeing, as we look to the potential of this merger, similar kinds of opportunities in the transit world.”

Alviti sees cooperation on future transportation grant requests opening the possibility of ten times the amount of grants received in recent years.

That would mean that the wonderful vision you had in planning of the Master Plan that included things like VRTs[?] and rapid transit an dedicated bus lanes and and expansion of service and the modernization and electricization of the fleet could happen much faster…”

RIPTA employee Nick DeCristofaro noted that the two agencies don’t have to be merged to work together on grants.

Barry Schiller, a transportation advocate, thinks it is worth looking into the possibility of a merger, but has reservations. “Right now the structure [of RIPTA] allows the public to address the staff and the policy makers, and it gives us the opportunity to have you hear us.If there’s a merger into RIDOT, frankly, this is a concern… Current RIDOT leadership has cancelled quarterly environmental round tables…”

Schiller also noted the lack of opportunity for the public to have input into the proposed changes at Kennedy Plaza. “If there’s going to be a merger, that would require legislation to change the enabling act for RIPTA,” said Schiller, “I believe that the process for developing that legislation should have public input, especially from riders and users of RIPTA…”

“I feel I have a better chance and earlier chances to weigh in on RIPTA changes that have been proposed in recent years than I have on DOT,” said Susan Feely, echoing previous statements that RIDOT is less than open and transparent.

“We’ve been having a problem in the last six months to a year with a serious lack of transparency on the major initiatives affecting bus riders,” said Randall Rose, a transportation advocate.

“Getting a lot more money at the expense of our input into how that money is spent, is not very comforting,” said Pat Fontes.

Although initially thinking that a RIDOT/RIPTA merger might be a good idea, “in the ensuing years I think RIDOT has done nothing but break the trust of people who rely on modes of transportation outside of cars,” said Liz Burkin. “It’s not worth entering into a consolidation agreement when public input has been so consistently denied.”


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