Over the weekend, the Rhode Island Senate leader called publicly for RIPTA CEO and former Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian to step down, paving the way for Rhode Island DOT to take over as the leader …
Over the weekend, the Rhode Island Senate leader called publicly for RIPTA CEO and former Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian to step down, paving the way for Rhode Island DOT to take over as the leader and organizer of the state’s quasi-public transportation agency responsible for ferrying millions of people each year to their destinations they otherwise couldn’t access.
In his statements, Sen. Dominick Ruggerio sought to lay all of RIPTA’s shortcomings at Avedisian’s feet, and said, “It is time for wholesale reform at RIPTA.”
While there is certainly merit to the argument that RIPTA can find room for improving its performance (the staffing shortages preventing kids from getting to school in the fall was a gaffe) — and even less debate regarding the looming financial crisis the agency faces as federal aid supplied during Covid runs dry — we strongly question the hypothetical efficacy of folding the entire organization under the auspices of the DOT.
Logistically, this would be anything but straightforward. RIPTA employs around 800 people, according to their website, many of whom are union-represented and have their own pension plan separate from the state pension plan that would be utilized should they be transformed into DOT employees. The complexities of this factor alone make us question whether or not such a move is remotely worth the effort or cost of the many legal hours that would be required.
Politically speaking, this overhaul would also be no easy feat. Ruggerio’s Senate, and whatever legislation comes out of that chamber, will have to earn the approval and support of Joe Shekarchi’s House of Representatives — the same Shekarchi who has been publicly supportive of Avedisian’s tenure at RIPTA.
Making matters muddier is that there is also absolutely no reason to believe that DOT could do a better job of running RIPTA than RIPTA can. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has more than enough to worry about as the stewards of infrastructure — highways, state roads, and bridges throughout Rhode Island — without trying to expand their horizons into the world of public transportation logistics that operates atop that infrastructure.
While we would not claim that Avedisian is beyond criticism, we think it simply unfair for him to be scapegoated during a time when it seems the entire public transportation sector faces similar issues across the country. Although it may sound like a cop-out, the majority of RIPTA’s problems come down simply to a lack of funding, not a lack of leadership or thoughtful direction.
The General Assembly and Governor McKee would be better served finding ways to better fund the public transportation system that is relied upon by so many as it currently exists, not attempting what amounts to a political coup backed by no empirical evidence.
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