Since hearing about the proposed cut of Bus 8 from RIPTA’s service, regular riders from the Buttonwoods area have been fighting to keep the service, seeing it as a necessary part of the commute in and out of Providence.
Ann Brown, an employee at Rhode Island Housing on Washington Street in Providence, takes that bus, which runs from Buttonwoods to Kennedy Plaza, every morning and was part of a group of riders who attended a town hall-style meeting hosted by RIPTA on Feb. 25.
“I didn’t find [RIPTA] very receptive. I wasn’t impressed,” said Brown during a phone interview last week.
During the meeting, many Buttonwoods riders proposed questions regarding alternative routes that will be provided if their service is eliminated. According to Brown, the RIPTA representatives could not provide decisive answers on issues of parking at different stops and the logistics of a new bus hub at the Warwick Mall.
“If you were cutting someone’s bus route, you should have more definitive answers,” said Brown.
According to Amy Pettine, the director of planning and marketing for RIPTA, the proposed cut is part of RIPTA’s Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA), a study conducted by public transportation services throughout the country every few years. The study consists of looking through years’ worth of data, speaking to riders at stops, route evaluations and online feedback from the public.
“We are looking at how best to implement our resources,” said Pettine during a phone interview, adding that RIPTA sees the proposed changes as a redirecting of resources as opposed to cutting items for the sake of cutting.
“There is not a route in the system that doesn’t have proposed changes,” said Pettine. She went on to say that the COA results are put into two Service Scenarios, both of which are currently posted on RIPTA’s website. RIPTA is asking the public to log on to the website, look at both scenarios and comment on the various pieces.
Eventually, RIPTA will take all of the information, including public opinion, and compile one set of recommendations.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who also serves as chairperson of RIPTA’s board of directors, said that the COA is an important resource.
“The [COA] process undertaken by RIPTA is an attempt to look at all of our service, to analyze where we need more service, to look at how we can increase buses in certain areas to create transportation centers or hubs and to see where enhanced service makes sense,” said Avedisian in an e-mail. “So from a RIPTA standpoint, this process is giving us all of the information on routes, ridership and profitability.”
Due to low ridership and the availability of alternative routes, the COA recommends Bus 8 and Bus 49, which services Camp Street and Miriam Hospital, be discontinued in both scenarios. Bus 90S, which provides service to Scituate, is also recommended for elimination, but only in scenario one.
According to Pettine, RIPTA’s service guidelines require buses on commuter routes to have an average ridership of 25 passengers per trip; Bus 8 runs at only 8.9 passengers per trip.
While RIPTA has proposed alternative routes to compensate for Bus 8, including creating a new bus hub at the Warwick Mall that would provide a route to the train station on Jefferson Boulevard, regular rider Laurie Furney believes the cancellation of Bus 8 would lead to more problems.
“I can drive to a stop, but it would greatly inconvenience me on bad weather days and there are risks to the cars parking in these other areas,” said Furney during a phone interview.
If bus riders were to be redirected to the train station, Furney explained that a one-way ticket from the Jefferson Blvd. station to Providence is $5.50 and it would cost $6.75 per day to park if a bus could not be taken to the station. Bus fare is only $2 according to RIPTA’s website.
Another daily rider, Anne McDonald, also fails to see the benefit of alternative routes. Today, McDonald can simply walk to the front of her street to her stop. If service were discontinued, she would need to walk over a mile to other stops.
“In both cases, I would need to cross heavy traffic on Warwick Ave. or Main Ave. and Post Road, including some dangerous intersections,” said McDonald in an e-mail.
In addition to their own daily commute, Furney and McDonald are concerned about those in the area who need to use the RIde paratransit service. According to RIPTA’s website, RIde provides transportation to individuals with disabilities or the elderly through various state programs and must operate within a three-quarter-mile area of a fixed bus route.
The Bus 8 riders have been reaching out to many officials both at RIPTA and in the city, including Avedisian. While the mayor assured the group that no decision had been made and he would look into their concerns, the group agrees Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi has been their biggest supporter.
“They have been very concerned. [The bus] is a lifeline for them,” said Shekarchi during a phone interview. “I plan on being [at hearings] and advocating for them.”
In a letter to Avedisian and Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Studley, interim chief financial officer, Shekarchi presented his concerns.
“Seeing that Warwick is the second largest city in Rhode Island and has already suffered with limited bus service – eliminating a route is definitely not a suitable solution,” wrote Shekarchi. “I strongly believe that instituting a smaller size bus on Route 8 would enable the citizens with a more logical and viable solution to this problem.”
In addition to government officials, the group has reached out to hotels, INSIGHT, a nonprofit serving the blind, and other businesses along the route to gain support for their cause.
“We are just asking that [RIPTA] keep what we have now, which is limited service,” said Furney.
McDonald hopes for the same.
“I support keeping the current trips as they are. Just one inbound and outbound trip per day will have to do if there are no alternatives, but this would not accommodate all riders on the route and some will have to find other buses,” she said.
Pettine emphasized that no recommendations are final.
“We will still consider exploring options and address all concerns,” she said. “We are listening to all suggestions.”
Pettine explained that all of the gathered information and scenarios will be presented to the board of directors this month. Following that presentation, RIPTA will compile one set of recommended changes. Once that happens, public hearings will occur so riders can voice their opinions.
“We are all trying to go to the hearing,” said Furney. “We want to have a lot of representation there.”
Pettine suspects that the public hearings will not occur until late April or early May.