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RIDOT faces strong opposition to multi-hub plan at public meeting



Raimondo and her administration have proven that they cannot be trusted to have a transparent and inclusive process to include riders, and would rather bulldoze over them and force through a plan by means of RIDOT,” say RI Transit Riders in a statement. “To spend about $35 million dollars of  public money to make a major change to our transit system without a single public hearing or workshop is undemocratic and unacceptable. There was nothing in the language of the 2014 bond that suggested this money would be spent on a single project.

The Rhode Island Public transit Authority (RIPTA) Board took no vote Wednesday on a proposed plan that would break up the Kennedy Plaza bus hub in downtown Providence and distribute the bus routes across three downtown locations, inconveniencing passengers, increasing commuter times and making it more difficult for the elderly and people with disabilities to use public transportation.

The plan is strongly supported by Governor Gina Raimondo.

During the meeting, Committee Chair Norman Benoit said that there may be no vote taken by RIPTA, because the project is not theirs. The project is entirely under the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the executive director of RIDOT, Peter Alviti. Alviti answers to Governor Gina Raimondo.

In a statement, RI Transit Riders, a public transportation advocay group, condemned the multi-hub proposal put forth by the Raimondo administration and RIDOT saying the plan would “would make the bus system more confusing and less convenient for passengers .” They continued:

The plan would break up Kennedy Plaza into three hubs, one at the train station, one on the outskirts of Kennedy Plaza and one on Dyer Street about a half a mile away from Kennedy Plaza that would serve most passengers. It was created without rider input and without public oversight. When riders find out about this project, the vast majority are against it. At the recent RIPTA board meeting, many riders came out to express their opinions about the plan. Every single speaker was opposed to the plan.

Riders made many excellent points about the downsides of this secretive plan, ranging from the lack of suitability of the cramped Dyer Street location for a hub, the need for elderly and other vulnerable populations to minimize walking and waiting time which would be increased by this proposal, the increased need for transfers with a multi-hub, the fact that Kennedy Plaza is where riders want to go, the foolishness of spending money to essentially replicate a hub in a much inferior location and the need to spend the 2014 bond money across the state, not just on one single project.

The hub breakup plan has never even been on the RIPTA board’s agenda until this week. But when it came time for board discussion Wednesday, no board member had anything to say, after they had just heard the largest turnout ever for a RIPTA meeting speaking against the plan. Instead, the board chair announced to the 40-plus members of the public in attendance that the RIPTA board wouldn’t have to vote on this because the hub breakup wasn’t RIPTA’s plan. We know what hearings look like; this wasn’t a hearing at all.

Raimondo and her administration have proven that they cannot be trusted to have a transparent and inclusive process to include riders, and would rather bulldoze over them and force through a plan by means of RIDOT. To spend about $35 million dollars of  public money to make a major change to our transit system without a single public hearing or workshop is undemocratic and unacceptable. There was nothing in the language of the 2014 bond that suggested this money would be spent on a single project. 

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RI Transit Riders calls for the governor to immediately suspend the project until such a time when adequate, multiple and well publicized meetings with the public and stakeholders can take place in Providence and across the state. We need to create a plan that has rider needs at the heart of it, not a plan created by insiders, business people with vested interests and an agency that builds highways and does not have experience running transit systems.

Below is the full video from the meeting, concerning the Kennedy Plaza project.

Norman Benoit introduces the public speaking portion of the meeting:

“In the past, when we’ve seen these projects, RIPTA would have meetings all throughout the state,” said Amy Joy Glidden, from RI Transit Riders. “Over 100 people would come out to the Providence meeting. We would be allowed to look throughout the planning stages. And that way hundreds of passengers and people from the public would get to weigh in. And none of that happened with the RIDOT process. Things have been done almost in total secrecy…”

“Having a single hub, with all the buses going to the same place, is more convenient for passengers, more efficient, and less confusing,” said Patricia Raub. “It appears to us that the only reason RIDOT has proposed this multi-hub plan is because the Dyer Street location they want to move to is too small to be a proper hub.”

“RIPTA has been sidelined from the process,” said Randall Rose. “Experts on RIPTA staff have not been consulted… There’s been no interaction with bus riders… This is going to drive the transit system into the ground…”

“Losing Kennedy Plaza is going to make things more confusing, especially for first time riders that are going to have a really hard time navigating this whole thing.”

“I’m concerned that having three hubs, with not all buses going to all three hubs… just increases confusion many-fold…”

“What we need in Rhode Island is more and better public transit,” said Susan Marcus, “and the way we’re going to get that is to involve the public more seriously in decisions…”

“I can imagine a world where having multiple hubs would be convenient to people, but in this instance, as it’s presented, it feels that the extra transfers that people have to make… aren’t being offset in any meaningful way…”

“This entire process has been flawed since the beginning,” said Sharon Steel, President of Jewelry District Neighborhood Association. “There’s been zero transparency. Zero process and a total absence of data.”

Kennedy Plaza’s “greatest strengths are capacity and central location,” said Providence resident David Mann. RIDOT’s plan “will permanently inconvenience riders. It will push people away from riding transit, which in turns pushes people to cars and increases traffic and congestion…”

“Dyer Street,” said Barry Schiller, a contributor to UpriseRI, “is nowhere any passenger much wants to go. And after dark, passengers will be scared, and and transit security is very important, especially to senior passengers like my wife and I.”

“This multi-hub bus proposal flies in the face of what the voters want,” said Liza Burkin, organizer of the Providence Streets Coalition. “It’s going to create longer bus commutes, more and farther apart transfers, which will explicitly affect our elderly and disabled neighbors, and create a more confusing and difficult public transportation system for Rhode Island.”

“I really don’t see where it helps riders or businesses… I worry about taxpayers too.”

“In its most basic form, I don’t think as a rider it’s going to work well,” said John Flaherty. “I think it’s going to be a disadvantage both to existing riders and those who we hope will look at transit as a good opportunity.”.”

“At the very least we think any plan or changes in the transit system… should insist on doing no harm to riders,” said Scott Wolf, executive director of GrowSmart RI. “That’s a very modest threshold I think needs to be adhered to.”

“We worry about the people who live here and depend on public transportation,” said Jane Arnold. “I think if we have money to spend, the buses need to run more frequently, they need to run later, and they need to run to more places. And that will increase ridership…”

Chris spoke against the plan.

“The process has not been as open as I’d have liked it to have been.”

A speaker opposed to the proposal.

The RIPTA Board then discussed what form the discussion on the multi-hub proposal will take.

Nicole Verdi, from Governor Gina Raimondo’s office, requests permission to address the board:

“We tried to put together a multi-hub plan that we do think will have benefits for ridership,” said Verdi, without elaborating on what those benefits would be. She urged the board to keep an open mind until responses can be formed to all the comments that were raised. Verdi also claimed that voters approved this multi-hub plan in 2014 when they voted in favor of a transportation bond. There was no mention of a multi-hub proposal in that bond, just that improvements would be made.

“There may never be a vote,” said Chair Benoit. “It is not our project… We can have input, like everyone else has input…”

Verdi pushed back slightly against the assertion that the multi-hub proposal is not a RIPTA project, saying that the Governor has worked with RIPTA in a collaborative partnership.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.