PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — R.I. Public Transport Authority (RIPTA) CEO Scott Avedisian was in the hot seat Monday night, as lawmakers pressed him about the quasi-public agency’s day-to-day operations.
Avedisian appeared before the Senate Oversight Committee nearly one month after Senate President Dominick Ruggerio called on him to resign.
The call came at the same time Ruggerio unveiled his intentions to submit legislation to move RIPTA under the umbrella of the R.I. Department of Transportation.
On Monday, lawmakers grilled Avedisian on problems at the transit agency, ranging from a high-profile cyberattack that compromised the personal information of thousands of state workers to a shortage of bus drivers that coincided with the start of the school year.
“It was good to be able to answer questions and to make sure everyone knows what’s going on with the financial situation … and to clear up issues that had been unresolved,” Avedisian said.
Right now, RIPTA has 44 driver openings out of more than 420 available positions, which Avedisian said is problematic at times.
“It depends on if people call out sick,” he said. “But we’re trying our hardest to hire people every day.”
Ruggerio said he met with Avedisian for the first time on Monday.
“That’s what kind of bothers me,” he said. “We had never met before … I was expecting him to share his vision, [but] that didn’t happen. That’s suspect to me as to what’s going on.”
Avedisian served as Warwick’s mayor for nearly two decades before leaving his longtime post in 2018 to lead RIPTA.
Ruggerio has been critical of the CEO’s recent leadership, including Avedisian’s decision to grant a “no-bid” $84,000 contract to the law firm of Allan Fung, a fellow former Republican mayor.
The Senate president tells 12 News that contract “smells political.”
“I don’t think any quasi-autonomous agency should exceed what the state does as far as the bidding process,” Ruggerio said.
Ruggerio said he’s worried about the agency’s financial stability. In recent years, RIPTA has balanced its budget using millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money allocated to the state.
A long-range operating forecast shows the quasi-public agency will begin operating at a loss of between $33 million and $47 million after federal COVID-19 relief funds expire next fiscal year.
While Avedisian had answers for some of his questions, Ruggerio said he’s still concerned and hasn’t changed his stance.
“I think we need a transit professional in this state that knows transit,” he said.
Avedisian has repeatedly defended his record and hasn’t given any indication that he plans to resign.
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.