PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ After being closed for more than a year due to the pandemic, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is reopening the bathrooms at Kennedy Plaza to the public.
The decision comes weeks after Project Weber/RENEW, a local advocacy group, demanded RIPTA once again provide travelers access to basic sanitation.
RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian said the transportation agency and the city have agreed on a plan that will accommodate riders’ need for the facilities while also continuing to enforce the federal mask mandate and ensure bus drivers have access to their own bathrooms.
“Enforcing the mask mandate in such a busy public space will be a challenge, but we understand the importance of public access to the restrooms,” Avedisian said. “It is also important is that our drivers have access to facilities where they do not have to wait in line and worry about not staying on schedule.”
Beginning Wednesday, the restrooms at Kennedy Plaza will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Avedisian said the city will be retrofitting bathrooms a the nearby BankNewport City Center for bus drivers to use.
Earlier this month, Avedisian said part of the reason RIPTA wasn’t able to reopen their restrooms was because of the uncertainty surrounding the transportation agency’s future presence in Kennedy Plaza.
Avedisian said RIPTA was hoping to reconfigure the bathrooms in the existing building to designate certain ones for bus drivers, but that plan was hindered when the city began considering other uses for the property.
But in a letter sent to Avedisian last week, Providence Planning Director Bonnie Nickerson said the city’s future plans for Kennedy Plaza include RIPTA remaining active on the property.
Nickerson said the city is committed to creating “viable options that will serve the needs of residents of RIPTA riders, and adequately address the needs of RIPTA drivers.”
Project Weber/RENEW’s Director of Programs Annajane Yolken said they’re grateful RIPTA has “committed to reopening the Kennedy Plaza bathrooms as a matter of public health for the downtown community.”
But Yolken also said the advocacy group remains frustrated with the fact it took more than a year to reopen the restrooms.
“We hope in the future there will be swifter action on behalf of RIPTA in response to the needs of the community,” Yolken said.