RIPTA talks electric busses and the ‘Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Project’ – Also: Free fare for all?

Electric Busses:

At RIPTA‘s Board of Directors meeting held Monday in Kennedy Plaza, CEO Scott Avedisian spoke briefly about the three new electric busses the company invested in with settlement money from Volkswagon. RIPTA is the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

“Two out of the three [busses] have arrived,” said Avedisian in his report to the Board. “They are on [RIPTA] property. They are being charged as we speak.

“This is a process that’s been fraught with disaster all along. The three [busses] left California and were in Iowa when two of them were damaged. Fortunately, there was a plant in Iowa that was able to repair them. So the second bus arrived yesterday.

“The worker who was to deliver the [third] bus from Iowa quit, so the worker who took the second bus here got on a plane back to Iowa to drive the third bus back,” continued Avedsian. “So we expect the third bus to be on our property, hopefully by Thursday.”

The buses need to have safety features and other things added to them but will be announced as in service on October 22nd. So we expect a big press announcement.


“Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Project”

RIPTA “just had a meeting with [Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Executive] Director [Peter] Alviti and a bunch of DOT staff and RIPTA staff on the “Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Project” that we’re going to be helping to do the research on,” said Avedisian to the Board. “It’s a very exciting development.

“We just finished that meeting so we will give you more of an update when we can announce who the vendor is and other issues, probably next fall.”


Free Fare for All?

Public transportation advocate Professor Barry Schiller, a contributor to UpriseRI who served on the RIPTA Board from 1995-99 and currently serves on RIPTA’s Finance Committee addressed the Board during public comment.

Schiller presented an audacious idea: Free bus fare for all riders. Schiller presents some points in favor:

  • About of third of RIPTA’s passengers already ride free.
  • There are new opportunities because the state departments concerned with climate change, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Division of Planning are “finally dealing with transportation.” Efforts have been focused on energy generation but transportation is the biggest and fastest growing area of green house gas emissions.
  • The cost isn’t as great as might be assumed. Riders pay about $12.3 million. With other payments into the system the revenue that would have to be made up comes to about $14 million. “Not insignificant,” said Schiller, “but not an outrageous reach.” Schiller also pointed out the opportunity for savings: No fare box processing, not printing of passes, no fare box maintenance. And of course, it would speed up boarding.
  • It would put Rhode Island on the map: We would be the only state in the country with free bus service.


Since the meeting was held at Kennedy Plaza, a flyer about the history of Kennedy Plaza was handed out:


The next meeting of the RIPTA Board of Directors will be on Monday, October 15. All meetings are held at 1:30 pm at RIPTA’s Transportation Conference Room located at 269 Melrose Street, Providence, RI, unless otherwise noted.


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About Steve Ahlquist 669 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Steve for reporting on RIPTA.

    I’ll add that to put in perspective the additional cost of about $14 million/year to provide free bus fares for all, the state now spends about $53 million now in phasing out the car tax which will eventually require about $220 million/year in state revenue. This provides a big tax break to households with many cars or expensive cars but no benefit to the approximately 1/5 of Providence households with no cars. In contrast people actually paying the bus fares are often low income working people who cannot afford to drive.

    I’d hope the free fare for all idea would start to attract riders who previously regarded the buses as just for the poor, and this would start to change the image of RIPTA. There is plenty of unused capacity as RIPTA’s ridership has dropped by about 5 million to a little over 16 million in the last decade. I can’t think of much else to do to rebuild ridership so transit can really contribute to the climate fight, to attract progressive employers, and help revitalize the core cities.

    I hope those interested will shop the idea around, to the business community, labor, smart growth advocates, planners, environmentalists, as well as the political class. If few takers, it won’t happen!

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