Thanks to the hard work of a group of dedicated RIPTA riders and two state legislators, any changes to RIPTA routes 8, 14 and 29 have been postponed for at least the next year.
Following a Comprehensive Operational Analysis, a team from RIPTA put together a list of recommended service changes to present to the Board of Directors on Monday night. One such change was the elimination of Bus 8, which services the Buttonwoods area.
However, due in large part to the work of 11 regular Bus 8 riders, Representative Joe Shekarchi and Senator Michael McCaffrey, Mark Therrien, assistant general manager of programming for RIPTA, recommended that the Board of Directors wait to make changes to service in Warwick until more research could be done. The board listened and changes to the 8-14-29 package were left out of the approved plan. All other recommended changes were passed.
“I was thrilled when [Therrien] responded that RIPTA staff told the board that Warwick needs another bus instead of service cuts and that we can expect Bus 8 to continue for at least another year,” wrote Anne McDonald in an email to the Beacon.
McDonald was one of the riders very active in trying to save Bus 8, which she rides every day to work.
“I am very relieved and happy that they are keeping things the way they are,” said Laurie Furney, another loyal Bus 8 rider.
“It was a lot of hard work, emails, phone calls and attending meetings that got us our great results,” said Ann Brown, another rider.
When asked why he suggested holding off on cuts to the Warwick area, Therrien explained that the public hearings played a large part. Following the hearings, Therrien and his team traveled along the current routes to see what areas would be affected by changes.
“Whether it is the Strawberryfield and Westbay [Community Action] area or even the Christmas Tree Shoppe on Bald Hill, we were taking away service there,” said Therrien in a phone interview Tuesday.
Taking away service from loyal riders was something Therrien said he could not recommend.
“We told the board we can’t make it work with what we have,” said Therrien. “Since no one in the room felt good about what we were doing, we postponed.”
“The RIPTA board took testimony from people at a series of meetings across the state. We listened to concerns and suggestions and then acted on the comments that we heard,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian, who is also chair of RIPTA’s board, in an email.
According to Therrien, the problem is a lack of resources. To truly service the City of Warwick, Therrien said he needs an extra bus.
Increasing service throughout the city is something Avedisian supports. “Expanding RIPTA service in the city, especially in relationship with the airport and train station, are particular priorities to me and our CEO Ray Studley, and a major reason why Governor Chafee asked me to chair this board,” said Avedisian.
Postponing changes to service in Warwick is allowing Therrien the time to see what might change in the next few months and if more funding can be found. He is especially keeping his eye on the O’Grady bill in the General Assembly, which would provide RIPTA with steady funding from the redesigned Highway Maintenance and Public Transit Fund.
Shekarchi is not a sponsor of that bill, but he is fully supporting it. The representative says coming up with a reliable stream of funding for RIPTA is key, but it will be a long-term project.
In a phone call yesterday, Shekarchi said he did not believe any changes would be seen this year, but as the economy improves and support for RIPTA funding bills, changes will come.
Brown, Furney and McDonald both praised Shekarchi for his help and support with maintaining RIPTA service in the city.
“We as a group credit Representative Joe Shekarchi for this welcome turn of events,” said McDonald. “It would not have happened without his tireless advocacy on our behalf and his commitment to public transportation.”
“[Shekarchi] is a great example of a state rep working for his constituents,” said Brown, adding that Therrien did a “great job” listening to and hearing the concerns of RIPTA riders.
Shekarchi said the campaign to save Bus 8 was a team effort.
“The riders are very passionate,” he said. “I am very happy to be effective for my constituents.”
Furney said the group would not only stay in touch with Sherkarchi on this issue but continue to provide feedback to RIPTA if and when they ask. She hopes in the future there will be increased service throughout the city and more convenient times for Bus 8, especially in the morning. Furney says the current buses at 6:55 a.m. and 7:20 a.m. are too early for workers who do not need to be at their jobs until 8:30 or 9 a.m. She also added that this experience has been an example of a company actively soliciting and actually using consumer feedback.
“Your voice does matter,” said Furney. “It is worthwhile to give feedback to RIPTA if and when asked.”
Therrien said he will continue to conduct research on service throughout Warwick, but riders can expect Bus 8, 14 and 29 to remain as is for the next year.