PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While a new proposal aiming to better Providence’s bus system is being billed as an improvement, some transit advocates argue the changes will actually make the riding experience “considerably worse.”
RI Transit Riders Coordinator Patricia Raub sent a statement to Eyewitness News, saying it was “alarming there has been so little transparency in planning and rolling out this project.”
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), along with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), unveiled “conceptual framework” for the proposal Thursday in a conference call with reporters.
Construction will take place at three hubs – the Innovation District, Kennedy Plaza and the Providence Train Station – and will be done in phases, starting in summer 2021. Project leaders say the hope is to have all construction complete by summer 2023.
“Few of us had heard anything about this plan until last week,” Raub said in a statement Thursday. “At this point, it seems that the main aspects of the plan have been decided upon, based upon input from engineers, planners and outside consultants ─ few if any of whom, I’d guess, have ever taken a bus, much less talked to a bus passenger.”
Grow Smart Rhode Island deputy director John Flaherty, who is also a member of RI Transit Riders, added that any reconfiguration of Providence’s existing bus hub “must represent an improvement for people who rely on transit.”
Flaherty, a RIPTA rider himself, believes the new plan is “a flawed concept.”
He says people who rely on transit include Rhode Islanders performing essential jobs, adding that these workers include people of color and in other communities “whose voices are often overlooked or less influential.”
While he’s not opposed to adding more hubs, Flaherty says Kennedy Plaza not being used as a central hub would create unnecessary transfers.
“Under no circumstances should transit hub changes make daily life for transit riders more challenging,” Flaherty told Eyewitness News. “I’m quite confident that the latest multi-hub proposal from RIDOT would in fact make travel more difficult and challenging for transit riders.”
RIDOT Director Peter Alviti also spoke with Eyewitness News Friday morning, noting that about 5,000 transfers take place daily at Kennedy Plaza.
“We want to make sure that those 5,000 transfers, those 5,000 riders, can still make the vital connections that they need to make in the three hub system,” Alviti said.
As the design is still evolving, Alviti says RIDOT has resolved “all but maybe 640 of them,” and riders might need to take a short ride to another transfer.
“However, even that 640 is a number that we’re going to continue to work with,” he said. “We’ll continue to work on getting that to as small a number as possible, and making sure that if another transfer is necessary, that it can happen in a very efficient and a convenient way to still get people to where they need to get in equal to or less time than they’re getting there now.”
Alviti told reporters on Thursday the decisions made around the project were data-driven. He said consultants were hired to find out where riders were traveling from, going to, and what transfers were being made in the process.
Flaherty said he requested the analysis from those consultants but had not yet received it from RIDOT.
He also told Eyewitness News there wasn’t enough dialogue between the state and RIPTA’s current riders. Alviti disputed that, and said even though the dialogue will continue, it’s time to get going on the project which also aims to attract new riders.
“Recreating and re-imagining a transit system that services the future of the state better,” Alviti said. “We don’t want to say in a perpetual state of planning. It’s time to actually do something.”
Flaherty offered an alternative for project leaders.
“I’d really like more than anything for RIDOT to abandon this concept because it’s flawed, and to turn it over the the agency that actually runs the transit system in the state,” Flaherty said.
RIDOT hopes to complete stakeholder outreach on the plan this month, and reach agreements with outside property owners by October.