RIPTA: Uncertainty about Kennedy Plaza’s future, budget issues keeping toilets closed

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The restrooms in the bus terminal at Kennedy Plaza have been closed for more than a year, and an advocacy group believes it’s time for them to open back up.

Project Weber/RENEW called on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) to reopen the restrooms last week, explaining that travelers need access to basic sanitation.

“The restrooms have been closed since March 2020, thus preventing people from having access to handwashing and sanitation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Project Weber/RENEW’s Director of Programs Annajane Yolken said. “While the rest of the state opens up, RIPTA continues to thwart any movement to reinstate the restrooms.”

Rhode Island lifted most restrictions last month, but face coverings are still required on public transportation. In April, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended the national mask mandate on public transportation through September 2021.

Yolken said the city has worked tirelessly with RIPTA to get the restrooms reopened.

“Several local elected officials have lobbied RIPTA to reopen the restrooms,” Yolken said. “A letter from July 2020 to RIPTA, signed by 30 public health and medical organizations, stated public health concerns with the lack of restrooms, including the presence of human waste on the streets of Providence.”

During a briefing Tuesday, Gov. Dan McKee agreed with the call to reopen the restrooms, but gave insight as to why they’re still closed.

“I think the bathrooms should be opened up at all the bus stops,” McKee said. “It is a budget issue. I was told it will cost about $1 million to do that.”

RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian and Amalgamated Transit Union President Nick DeCristofaro released a joint statement explaining that reopening the bathrooms isn’t as simple as unlocking the doors.

“While there are some factual inaccuracies in the press release that was issued last Friday calling for RIPTA to reopen the restrooms, we want to assure people that our agency and our union employees have formulated a plan that would allow general public access to restrooms facilities in Kennedy Plaza,” they said. “However, we have been unable to implement the plan and the necessary structural changes to the building due to uncertainty about RIPTA’s future presence in Kennedy Plaza.”

RIPTA drivers and staff are currently allowed to use the restrooms inside the terminal.

Avedisian and DeCristofaro said a possible solution would be for RIPTA to designate bathrooms inside the building for RIPTA drivers and staff and create exterior access to additional restrooms for the public.

“Our drivers need access to restroom facilities that allows them to keep on schedule and to not keep passengers waiting,” DeCristofaro said. “Creating driver-only restroom facilities in the building would be a great solution.”

But Avedisian and DeCristofaro said this can’t be done without a long-term commitment to RIPTA from the city due to the federal funding it would require. In addition, the city has since hired a consultant to look into other uses for the building and surrounding property, which RIPTA leases.

“Since the city has represented that they want RIPTA out of Kennedy Plaza and has hired consultants to look at the RIPTA building and suggest ways to re-purpose the building, we cannot commit resources to our solution to this issue,” Avedisian explained.

Avedisian also said since the restrooms closed, RIPTA has twice installed portable toilets at Kennedy Plaza, but both times they were vandalized. Two separate companies have declined to replace or maintain the damaged portable toilets, he added.

DeCristofaro suggested opening the restroom facilities at the nearby skating rink to the public for the time being.

Avedisian and DeCristofaro said they’ve asked for an increased police presence in the plaza to prevent illegal activities from happening in and around the terminal.

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