PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Senate President Dominick Ruggerio is calling on R.I. Public Transit Authority CEO Scott Avedisian to step down immediately, saying the quasi-public agency has been “plagued” by worsening problems in recent years.
The dramatic call for the resignation of Avedisian, a well-known public figure who previously served as Warwick mayor, comes at the same time Ruggerio announced plans to submit legislation to move RIPTA under the umbrella of the R.I. Department of Transportation.
In addition, the Senate president called for a Senate Oversight Committee hearing to scrutinize RIPTA’s operations. Its problems range 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.
“RIPTA has been plagued by enduring challenges that have only grown more severe over the years,” Ruggerio said. He expressed frustration that the problems have occurred despite an influx of federal funding that gave “unprecedented opportunity to make necessary reforms.”
“There has been no change in direction,” he said.
In response, Avedisian defended his record and gave no indication he plans to resign.
“The challenges at RIPTA are many and stretch back many years,” he said, saying he has overseen a balanced budget, increased capital pending, improved pension funding, and maintenance of service during the pandemic.
“But there is a lot more work to do,” Avedisian added. “I look forward to having the opportunity to speak with the Senate about their concerns, then working together with them to secure the resources it will take to address the remaining challenges RIPTA faces.”
Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for Gov. Dan McKee, declined to say whether the governor retains confidence in Avedisian to continue running the agency.
“Just as the General Assembly created RIPTA as a quasi-public agency with its own board and governance structure, it is within their purview to make adjustments to that structure,” Sheaff said in a statement. “Governor McKee and the administration want what is best for transit riders in Rhode Island. Once the legislation is released, our office will review the details of the Senate president’s proposal.”
Ruggerio — a Democrat — cited other “unacceptable management gaffes” beyond the driver shortage, 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 also questioned the agency’s financial stability.
“No meaningful plan to confront the agency’s fiscal challenges has been presented to the General Assembly, and we are again faced with putting band aids on a gaping wound,” Ruggerio said.
According to its most recent budget report for fiscal year 2022-23, RIPTA required roughly $60 million to cover an operating shortfall during the current fiscal year.
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.
“A quality, well-functioning public transit system is vital to the people of our state and our economy,” Ruggerio said. “It is time for wholesale reform at RIPTA.”
Ruggerio said he would ask the governor to conduct a nationwide search to replace Avedisian.
Eli Sherman (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook