Public Services

Raimondo and Elorza push ahead with multi-hub bus plan despite the objections of riders

“Forcing thousands and thousands of bus riders, including children and the disabled, into the cramped, remote Dyer St site known for its reported contamination just emphasizes the disregard that the Governor is showing for Rhode Islanders who use mass transit…”

November 9, 2020, 11:11 am

By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza joined Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Peter Alviti and Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) Chief Executive Officer Scott Avedisian on Thursday to announce plans to move forward with the Providence Multi-Hub Bus System and launch an extensive community engagement process.

Governor Raimondo made the announcement on Facebook. Possibly fearing pushback, there were no questions taken from the press or from the public.

“Our Multi-Hub System, which was developed after years of stakeholder feedback and input, will be good for riders, good for the environment, and good for jobs,” said Governor Raimondo. “With this project, we will not only improve the experience for existing riders but encourage many more Rhode Islanders to use public transportation in the years to come.”

Governor Raimondo and Director Alviti have repeatedly claimed that the Multi-Hub Bus System proposal builds on the vision state leaders and voters had in 2014 of developing an intermodal network that improves connectivity and expands access to transit throughout Rhode Island. In truth, voters approved a $35 million bond to improve Kennedy Plaza, not dismantle it.

Rhode Island Transit Riders, a group dedicated to public transportation that actually works for passengers, was unimpressed with the Governor’s press conference.

Today’s press conference led by Governor Raimondo on breaking up the Kennedy Plaza hub shows that the Governor is not yet listening to the repeated concerns by the people of Rhode Island, especially those who actually use the buses. We have repeatedly made it clear that this plan would do lasting damage to Rhode Island public transit. It would harm the vast majority of bus riders, not help them as the governor claims. This plan must be stopped.

To mention one of the many problems with this plan, there have been repeated reports of contamination at the former utility site on Dyer St to which RIDOT and the Governor want to send most passengers. Like other Rhode Islanders, we have heard the distressing stories of RIDOT mishandling contaminated soil on the 6-10 project. Forcing thousands and thousands of bus riders, including children and the disabled, into the cramped, remote Dyer St site known for its reported contamination just emphasizes the disregard that the Governor is showing for Rhode Islanders who use mass transit.

The Governor is ignoring the will of the voters who approved the bond she is using “to fund enhancements and renovations to mass transit hub infrastructure throughout the state of Rhode Island.” Ironically, her plan would spend all the bond money to destroy the hub in Providence, at the very moment when the Long Range Transportation Plan the state is about to adopt calls for regional and community transit hubs throughout the state.

It is outrageous that she would do this to accommodate Joe Paolino and his allies. They have made no secret that they want to get rid of the buses and their passengers, disproportionately poor and people of color, from the public Plaza near their property. They are not concerned about sending bus passengers to far less convenient locations.

The Governor is moving ahead with this major and harmful change in the transit without a single public hearing or workshop, and over the opposition of the RI Transit Riders, Providence City Council, the Environment Council of RI and other groups. Her actions raise questions about whether it would be appropriate for her to have a job in a potential Biden administration.

As a part of Thursday’s announcement, Mayor Elorza announced the engagement of a consultant team from Arup to “advance the City’s plans to create a unified vision for Downtown Providence’s public spaces to guide a significant investment in infrastructure and place-making in Greater Kennedy Plaza.” As part of the design phase, the City and Arup “will launch a robust public engagement process through regular consultations with stakeholders and community members,” said the Mayor. However, with the plan seemingly locked in place, it’s hard to imagine Arup’s involvement being anything more than a sales pitch for the plan as is, not as a true engagement with riders.

Mayor Elorza seems committed to selling the plan. “Successful cities are transit-rich cities,” said the Mayor. “Investing in both robust transit systems and dynamic public spaces will transform Greater Kennedy Plaza into a true civic hub. With active and meaningful input from community stakeholders, I look forward to advancing the plan for downtown transit investments with our statewide partners as we collectively develop a vision for a more active, vibrant and safe Downtown.”

Included in the Multi-hub plan is charging infrastructure to support an all-electric fleet. The new hubs will be designed to provide amenities, including restrooms, indoor waiting areas with real-time boards, benches, ticket vending machines, bike racks, and bike/scooter share areas at Innovation District and Providence Train Station hubs. Direct bus to rail connections linking downtown employment centers.