On Tuesday afternoon four lone travellers rode the state Public Transit Authority’s bus route 14. One was dressed in a suit, sunken into a seat toward the back with a pair of headphones. A woman, casting her eyes down at her novel, another man nodded off under his sunglasses, and a fourth man, donning a yellow shirt, staring out the window, glancing ever so often at his watch.
Brendan Palmeiro of Main Street in East Greenwich was running 30 minutes late for his customer service job at the Stop and Shop in Salt Pond Plaza, a scenario that he said happens often.
“Sometimes I have to get there an hour and a half to two hours before my shift or else I have to deal with being a half hour late,” said Palmeiro “On Sundays this bus doesn’t run and by the time I get out of work, it’s usually stopped running so I take the (bus route) 66 and bike five miles home from the park and ride.”
For southern Rhode Island residents who don’t drive cars, getting to work can be difficult. Buses run less frequently and some runs end hours earlier than their city counterparts.
Come October, carless workers like Palmeiro could find the commute to work a bit more difficult to navigate. Dealing with a $4.6 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, RIPTA is proposing a 10 percent service reduction that would affect 35 communities and 39 bus routes.
Waiting for a route 66 bus at Stop and Shop, 17-year-old Uriah Hazard, of Narragansett, worried his eggs would spoil in the mid-day heat.
“This [service reduction] will probably be very bad for me,” said Hazard. “I have to take the bus to work in the morning and I often have stuff I need to get into the fridge by a certain time. I can get my license around this time next month, but I can’t afford to buy a car, that’s why I work.”
Since 2009, RIPTA riders have dealt with two rate hikes and could bear the consequences of Rhode Island’s funding difficulties. With no money left to bail out the state’s public transportation department, RIPTA is left with no choice to tackle a $4.6 million budget shortfall than to cut services and tighten the fiscal bottom line in operations, said RIPTA Executive Director Charles Omdingbe.
“There is a lot to the situation here and the bottom line at RIPTA is that the nature of service on the street will be changed,” said Omdingbe. “What that change will be and how it will be negotiated will be a product of the conversation between RIPTA and its riders.”
For South Kingstown, Narragansett and all of southern Rhode Island, these changes will ultimately spell out deeper cuts in an already lean
arm of the state’s public transportation fleet. While Omdingbe said no
decisions about service cuts would be made until after the series of 5 public hearings over the next two weeks, he said street-level changes were inevitable.
Route 66, which travels daily from Kennedy Plaza in Providence down Route 2, through the University of Rhode Island campus in Kingston and on to downtown Wakefield and finally to Galilee, could lose weekend service and see routes end two hours earlier than they do today, crippling mobility for students and second-shift workers in town.
Route 14, which travels from Kennedy Plaza down Post Road, past Narragansett Beach to Salt Pond Plaza on Point Judith Road in Narragansett could also see service cuts.
“URI is a big destination location and we are working with representatives from that region to come up with solutions,” he said. “It is not lost to us that these proposed changes make anxiety [for riders], but at the end of the say people need to realize the challenge we are dealing with.”
RIPTA’s $4.6 million challenge is a culmination of factors of an ailing economic climate. Reduced revenues from the state gas tax, which
funds RIPTA operations, coupled with the increased costs of diesel fuel have created an unfavorable funding formula for Rhode Island’s only public transportation system. According to Omdingbe, the gas tax revenue falls as gas price increases because people are driving less.
“We will do our best to minimize or mitigate these impacts to our riders,” said Omdingbe.
But riders will have to be a part of the solution to tighten RIPTA’s finances.
“I think this could have a trickle-down effect,” said Palmeiro. “If I can’t get to work, I’m not getting paid and I can’t pay the RIPTA fare. I’m
not going to ride the bus if I can’t rely on a route. I think this could lead to more unemployment. I don’t know how drastic I’m being but it seems possible.”
Omdingbe admitted cutting public transportation could adversely impact Rhode Island workers and the state’s economy, but he said the department would not consider another rate hike to generate more revenue, “given the demographics that ride the bus, I think they pay enough into the system already,” he said.
Palmeiro disagrees. “In order for them to make the money they need to pay for the routes, they need to be useful to the riders. I would
rather pay a little more for something I can depend on,” he said.
“I never fail to encourage people to come talk to us about what the impact will be to them,” said Omdingbe. “The more ideas, the better
ideas we come up with, the better able we will be to bridge this funding challenge.”
Public hearings will be held across the state over the next two weeks, each location will have two hearings per day, one from 2-4 p.m. and another from 6-8 p.m.:
- Tuesday, July 26: Newport CCRI Campus, Auditorium, 1 John H. Chafee Boulevard, Newport.
- Wednesday, July 27: Burnside Building, 400 Hope St., Bristol.
- Thursday, July 28: Warwick City Hall, Council Chambers, 3275 Post Road, Warwick.
- Monday, Aug. 1: University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence campus auditorium, 80 Washington St., Providence.
- Tuesday, Aug. 2: Narragansett Town Hall, Assembly Room, 25 Fifth Ave.