Keep it Going– Support RIPTA

EcoRI reports on an effective citizen action to support public transit…

What a difference a year makes. With RIPTA facing a projected $8 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2013, which would translate to about a 25 percent cut in services, schedules and routes without a more stable funding source, a group more than 60 residents and representatives of local businesses, entrepreneurs and advocacy groups descended on the recent House Finance Committee meeting to voice their support for the amendments.[to Public Transit Investment Act (H7581) setting aside 35% of income from license and registration fees for public transit}

After the chairs were filled, attendees spilled into the halls of the Statehouse to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television. In an an unprecedented show of support for mass transit funding, every person and organization that testified before the committee was in favor of the amendments. Not one voice of opposition was heard in the room.

Paul “Fuzzy” Harrington, president and business agent of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618, stressed the importance of the bill, saying, “Mass transit is a necessity, not a luxury, to the residents of Rhode Island.

60 people showing up at the State House is pretty good, but shows how few concerned citizens it takes to make a difference. Read the rest here.

Occupy Providence Day 4– The #42 is Late

Today is going to be busy at work so I decide to stop by early to see how goes the occupation.

This is peak riding time and the #42 is late. When the bus pulls up to the curb it is jammed. The driver says they are one bus down. She’s a veteran and she is using her best drill-sergeant voice to urge riders to ‘move to the back, I don’t want to leave anyone waiting’. She’s so good-humored about it that the riders thank her. As we exit the tunnel I see a sign at First Baptist– ‘Y’all are welcome to occupy our church’.

It looks like there are more tents in Burnside Park than last night. Occupy is taking donations and some of the homeless people who hang out in the park are finding solidarity there. The apparent lack of an agenda, absence of visible leaders and leveling effect of days outdoors– class cues obscured for the moment– make it hard to sum up what this is about.

Last night when I got home, I read a New Yorker article about Occupy Wall Street. The author, Hendrik Hertzberg, noted the process of the General Assembly that is replicated here in Providence. No amplification for speakers, hand signals to keep things on track, messages passed from the front of the crowd to the back like a game of telegraph. Somehow this is working without a brand, a slogan, a charismatic leader. But where is it leading? Into new territory it seems.

I see someone I know, Cathy from Beneficent Church. I knew her from about 6 years ago when Beneficent was running an overflow shelter for people homeless in the winter. Beneficent put its social and financial capital on the line to carry out that Christian mission and Kathy was tireless, tough and dedicated. She’s unable to keep up that pace now, she says she’s on disability. Others in the church are facing health problems, she tells me. It’s an older congregation, on the brink of a revival. I tell her about First Baptist, and First Unitarian. Cathy says the occupation just might take the churches up on their offer.

Some of the signs–
Tax the 1% just 1% to make a difference
Occupational Therapy
99% is too big to fail
Where did the Native American dream go?

This scene reminds me of Seabrook, NH in 1977 when the Clamshell Alliance occupied the Seabrook Nuclear Plant, then under construction. The non-hierarchical, decentralized and gender-equal organization prefigured this present movement. The Clamshell Alliance failed to stop the Seabrook plant, but events overcame the nuclear industry when Three Mile Island suffered a near-catastrophic meltdown.

Occupy is a wild card, and what events will follow remain to be seen.

The #42 from Kennedy Plaza is again standing room only. Transportation is a universal need, and public transportation a common good, but RIPTA has to beg every year like some poor relation for a fraction of the money we spend on highways. As service gets cut and the bus becomes less convenient, revenue drops and the hole gets deeper. Sitting in a traffic jam on Rt.95 starts to seem like the only option.

Death by a thousand cuts and privatization are not just problems for the poor, but are threatening the middle class. This is one reason that the Occupation has supporters across the board.

For more on RIPTA, link here.


For all my voting life I have been pulling the lever for transportation bonds that put big bucks into highways. I do it to authorize the pocket change for public transit included in the small print.

Being both a car owner and bus rider I say it’s time to balance the funding and build up RIPTA.

Fuel costs, congestion and a tough economy make convenient and accessible bus service a good choice for commuting to work. If drivers spend less time in traffic jams that’s a plus for our economy and air quality.

RIDE transports Rhode Islanders who use wheelchairs to essential doctor’s appointments. Without RIDE, private ambulances would have fill that need, at a much higher cost to taxpayers. We save a lot with wise use of public services.

Our aging citizens are afraid to give up driving– even when they don’t feel safe– because they have no good alternative. We need more public transit, and will continue to need an increase year by year.

I was downtown last week, waiting 40 minutes for the #42 Hope Street— a busy route. It reminded me that every cut to numbers of runs leaves people waiting longer. For someone who takes the bus every day to work that’s a bite of their time, an example of how cuts are a tax.

Advocates for RIPTA are meeting at the State House this Wednesday, 8/17. You can get details here…
Save RIPTA Blogspot

Public Transit Cut Again

I had to take my car in for repairs yesterday and I caught a bus back home. I’d never taken the bus from Taunton Ave., and was pleased to find that the service is good. The bus was full.

One of the passengers was a disabled little girl in a wheelchair. Taking RIPTA saves somebody (state, feds, family or all three) over a hundred dollars each trip.

So I am bummed and frustrated to see this in today’s paper…

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority plans service reductions affecting more than 15,000 riders per year to help cover an estimated budget deficit of $3.7 million.

The cutbacks would take effect Aug. 28 and could affect as many as 18,000 riders, depending on how they are counted.

This is exactly the wrong thing for RIPTA and our state’s long-term economic health. People are using the bus to go to school and work, and night shift workers in nursing homes, college students, people who can’t maintain the expense of a car will be stranded.
We all pay taxes to smooth the highway in some town we’ll never visit and no one sees that as an entitlement. Why is public transit not given priority?

Anything ‘saved’ with these cuts costs in other ways. Increased burdens on working families, more rustbucket cars on the road, more congestion, pollution, accidents.

One reason elderly drivers won’t hand over the keys is because there are no good alternatives for transportation. And every extra five minutes you have to wait at the bus stop makes it less appealing to change old habits.

It’s also a matter of national security.

Just at the moment when the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill has generated two months of non-stop headlines about the dangers of oil dependency and the federal government in America finally has something of a platform to call for Americans to wean themselves off oil dependency, cities, counties and states across the US are decimating their public transit systems and forcing people, willy-nilly, to return to their cars.

The huge public works program to re-route the highway along the waterfront is ongoing, and I hope will pay off. Public transit needs to take a higher priority if we are going to keep people employed and achieve energy independence.