November 20, 2014
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RIPTA gets pushback on route changes
Jennifer Rodrigues
Jennifer Rodrigues
CHECKING IT OUT: David Stewart (baseball cap) and other concerned RIPTA riders pick up route descriptions prior to yesterday’s hearing.

When RIPTA representatives came to Warwick City Hall Tuesday afternoon to present proposed service changes, a handful of passionate riders came out to make sure they would still get where they need to go.

One Sandy Lane resident was upset because he believed Buttonwoods received service because the riders were more vocal about needing service. He said their “pizzazz” is leaving Sandy Lane residents without a bus.

“They need to take the bus to get their groceries. Now you’re taking that away. You are hurting people who take the bus,” said the man, who did not want to provide his name.

Initially, Mark Therrien, assistant general manager of planning at RIPTA, said that Sandy Lane would be losing service because RIPTA has “gone where the more riders are.”

However, after the hearing, Therrien and his team brought up the map of service and discovered they had misspoken.

“The 29 Kent County Connector is going down Sandy Lane, all the way to Conimicut,” said Therrien.

Because the proposed routes had been changed so many times in the past few months, Therrien misspoke during the hearing.

Therrien also added that Route 29 would travel on Centerdale Road to Quaker Lane, providing service to the Kent County Court House, another immediate concern from the audience.

The afternoon hearing in Council Chambers was the seventh of 12 scheduled hearings, giving the chance for riders to receive an overview of the proposed changes from RIPTA’s Comprehensive Operational Analysis and to voice concerns.

Overall, Therrien said the hearings had been very positive.

“We get more information every time,” said Therrien.

Tuesday’s meeting was no exception.

Prior to hearings, Buttonwoods riders of Bus 8 were outraged that their route was going to be eliminated. Therrien said he has had multiple discussions with riders on that route throughout this process.

“They are fairly satisfied,” he said, explaining that the area will now be covered in part by Routes 14 and 29. “Is it perfect? No. But they can get to work, which was the big concern.”

Anne McDonald is one of the Bus 8 riders that have been in communication with Therrien for the past few weeks. While she is still able to use the bus under the proposed changes to Route 29 at Strawberry Field Road, she is concerned about the rest of Buttonwoods.

“I will not support any plan that leaves out Buttonwoods,” said McDonald in an e-mail. She said this because Route 8 provides crucial service to the social welfare services in the area. Cuts can also affect RIde service for the elderly and disabled.

Providing bus service to Buttonwoods brought Jeanne Gattegno, executive director of West Bay Community Action, to Tuesday afternoon’s meeting.

“The center of Buttonwoods is the hub of social services for this area,” said Gattegno, explaining that all of the health and social services provided by West Bay Community Action are located in Buttonwoods, along with the Everett Wilcox Health Center and the Warwick office of the Department of Human Services. Gattegno urged RIPTA to take a good look at the area and ensure that those who need service will have easy access.

“We are a community that services a much bigger area,” said Gattegno, pointing out that people from the surrounding area need to access those resources as well.

McDonald attended last night’s public hearing along with fellow Bus 8 rider Laurie Furney. When the location of social services in Buttonwoods was brought up again, McDonald was surprised Therrien was only made aware of that fact at the earlier hearing.

“I believe that they need to get a better sense of a community and its public transportation needs instead of just going by numbers and waiting for riders to complain,” said McDonald.

Furney agrees that Buttonwoods needs to be 100 percent serviced by RIPTA because of the social services provided, although she said she was impressed that Therrien had been able to cover 90 percent of the route with 14 and 29.

“At the 6 p.m. meeting, Therrien indicated that he would hold off submitting final recommendations for the 8 route until he looked into it more,” said Furney in an e-mail.

Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi, who has been actively supporting increased service in Warwick, took the opportunity to present a portion of a Rhode Island Economic Development Committee report on the Warwick Station Development District, which says Warwick should have increased RIPTA service.

“Often times in Rhode Island, one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. I want it to be a coordinated effort,” said Shekarchi in a phone interview yesterday when asked about the report. “[The EDC] is calling for more service in Warwick, not less.”

Shekarchi said this shows that it is not just riders invested in RIPTA, but departments throughout the state. He says he is “equally concerned” for both his constituents and economic growth.

During the hearing Shekarchi read a portion of the Executive Summary of the Market Segmentation Analysis. Under general recommendations, it reads, “coordinate with RIPTA concerning routing, stop locations and potential Kent County Hub, Newport Hub, and, most importantly, a direct bus connection to Providence from the Interlink.”

Later in the report, under Findings and Conclusions, RIPTA is mentioned again. “To counter traffic congestion, an express RIPTA service between the Interlink and key destinations in Rhode Island would provide further connectivity through the state and lessen the dependency on cars.”

As Shekarchi predicted, Therrien said he and his team had never seen the report and were unaware of the information in it.

While he was speaking, Shekarchi asked how the route along Jefferson Boulevard would cover all the areas that need it.

“Route 29 really needs a second bus. How do we fund to provide for another bus,” admitted Therrien.

John Flaherty of Rhode Island Coalition for Transportation Choices believed he had the answer. He spoke at the meeting not to question route changes, but to encourage attendees to ask legislators to support the O’Grady Bill, or House Bill 5073.

The bill would provide sustainable funding to RIPTA from the Highway Maintenance Fund. Thirty-five percent of the fund, which is funded from registration, license renewal and other potential fees, would be given to RIPTA.

Flaherty said the true problem is funding because RIPTA is funded from gas tax, but gas sales are going down.

Therrien said if the funding situation changes, RIPTA would create a priority list of what to fund, including more service.

“[A second Jefferson Boulevard bus] will be high on that list,” said Therrien.

“We don’t want to see service cuts in RIPTA,” said Flaherty, who says his organization focuses on finding better funding.

“That is the only way we see a fix to this in the long term.”

Another popular topic at the hearing was the proposed Warwick Mall Transit Hub. Therrien admitted that nothing was finalized in regards to the hub because it is privately owned and the owners need to give their permission.

Joe Mathis, a student from University of Rhode Island, was quick to ask if an alternative location was in place. He could benefit from a Warwick transit center as Route 66 would stop at the hub and provide service to URI.

Therrien said the Community College of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Mall are being considered as alternatives.

Mathis also asked about using smart phone technology to provide both information and payment options for RIPTA service. Therrien said an app was in the works and could be available next year.

The app would allow riders to track their bus’ location along the route. Payment methods from smart phones are not in the works just yet because, Therrien said, other transit authorities have had trouble with such programs working properly.

The information from this and all other hearings will be compiled and provided to the RIPTA Board of Directors for the June 17 meeting. If they approve it, the changes will occur over a two-year period beginning in September.

“These public hearings give us a view of what people are thinking relative to service changes and enhancements that we intend to make through the comprehensive operational analysis. We are hearing about what people are looking for in respect to expanded service, and we are hearing about changes that they do not like,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian, president of the board. “In addition, it gave Ray Studley, Anna Liebenow, and me an opportunity to see what people have to say about RIPTA and our service in general.”

Following the hearing, David Stewart seemed to breath a sigh of relief. He said the hearing helped to alleviate his concerns “a little bit.”

Due to problems with his eye sight, Stewart said he is not allowed to drive and depends on RIPTA, specifically Routes 14 and 29, to get to where he needs to go, including doctor appointments.

He says there is a lack of service in Warwick even though it is the second largest city in the state.

“Only two buses go Warwick to Warwick,” said Stewart.

He is hopeful that he will be able to keep using RIPTA service.

“Otherwise I would have to move,” said Stewart.

Therrien says he and everyone at RITPA understands that the need for service is out there, but there is not enough funding.

The final two public hearings will be held Thursday, June 6 at the Pawtucket Transit Center at 175 Main Street in Pawtucket from 2 to 4 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m.


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