RIPTA listens to Sakonnet bus plea; no promises yet
TIVERTON — More people showed up Monday night in Tiverton Town Hall for a RIPTA-sponsored meeting about busing than attended any of the transit authority's recent meetings in other communities
They were there to hear what RIPTA had planned in the way of busing options for Tiverton and Little Compton, which have been without transit service since 2008 when weight restrictions were put in place on the old Sakonnet River Bridge.
The new bridge that opened up last fall has offered the promise that buses will soon connect the two communities with Portsmouth and the and the rest of the state, a prospect RIPTA has been studying for almost a year and that whetted the appetites of the 45 citizens who attended.
That's what Rhode Island Public Transit Authority Assistant General Manager Mark Thierrien had come to talk about. He briefly described the possibilities and problems, as RIPTA sees them. The hour-and-a-half meeting ended with the hope of a decision in June.
When Mr. Thierrien's opened the floor for questions, the audience was primed and ready.
Barbara Pelletier asked why — since the gas tax supports RIPTA, and people from Tiverton and Little Compton drive further and thus pay more in gas taxes shouldn't people from these communities get greater consideration when it comes to public transit. Mr. Thierrien said "RIPTA's funds are not broken into 39 communities."
Providing scant service to an isolated area can be a challenge. Larry Anderson of Little Compton said that one bus per day, as had in the past been the level of service to that town, "wasn't realistic. One per day isn't going to work."
"One bus a day doesn't work, I agree," said Mr. Thierrien.
"Transit works where there are a lot of people," he told the audience, most of whom were from Tiverton or Little Compton. "The more rural, the less people you carry."
Linda Larsen read the RIPTA mission statement aloud to the crowd (from her smartphone) — "To provide safe, reliable, and cost effective transit service with a skilled team of professionals responsive to our customers, the environment, and committed to transit excellence."
"We're not asking for anything more than what your mission statement says," she said. The audience applauded.
During the meeting, Mr. Thierrien several times reminded the audience of limitations on public transit (and often gestured towards legislators at the back of the room). Standing against the wall together were local representatives John G. (Jay) Edwards, Dennis M. Canario, and Senator Christopher Scott Ottianao." Dr. Ottiano at one point said, "our screaming has to go to the Governor's office."
"No transit pays for itself. That's the problem," Mr. Thierrien said. He said the authority had experienced a $2.5 million shortfall this year.
"Our budget has not increased in the last few years," he said. He noted a 12 percent increase in ridership, and said that as fewer people use cars, gas tax revenues decrease, lessening RIPTA revenue.
Deborah Pallasch, a Tiverton resident and member of the town school committee, asked Mr. Thierrien, "if you're not going to make any money anyway, who gets the priority. How are you going to decide where you're going to lose money?"
Mr. Thierrien said "our coverage is the problem." He said decisions need to favor routes where costs per rider are most favorable. "We don't have enough money to buy buses going forward."
Tiverton/Little Compton options
RIPTA has developed three options for Tiverton and Little Compton, Mr. Thierrien said.
One ("the Cadillac," he called it) would be creation of a "new bus route, operating every 45 minutes all day between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. from north Tiverton via Main Road over to Fish Road (possibly via Warren Avenue or Souza Road), then continuing to Portsmouth via Route #24." It could end at Boyd's Lane or Roger Williams, with connections to bus route 60.
Two, would be a "flex" zone in Tiverton, "designed to have hourly stops at the Fish Road park and ride lot," connecting to Portsmouth (and possibly the south end of Bristol), and running between Sandywoods and north Tiverton, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"The flex model would be the best for option for Tiverton," Mr. Thierrien said.
The third option would use a smaller RIPTA RIde vehicle, and would run two bus trips from Tiverton's Fish Road park-and-ride lot to Portsmouth (Boyds Lane, Clements Market, Mt. Hope Animal Hospital). "Service would be similar to what RIPTA operated prior to the bridge closing," he said.
Cross border busing
Mr. Thierrien said the run between Tiverton and Fall River is "where the demand is."
Francisco Silva of Little Compton agreed. "The transportation problem in Little Compton is local," he said. "Most of the people I know meet 80 percent of their needs in Fall River," and other towns, "all over the state line. From what I've heard there's very little RIPTA can do for this local transportation problem."
"Your observation isn't far off," Mr. Thierrien said.
Federal regulations (by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), and insurance requirements, make cross-border public transit impossible. "We need to have a $10 million liability insurance policy to cross state lines," he said. RIPTA at this point is self-insured, and a policy for its fleet would be cost-prohibitive.
Mr. Thierrien said RIPTA will try again to seek a waiver from those federal requirements.
Don Elbert of Tiverton said he'd been riding RIPTA for years, since it took over from Bonanza, and sees the importance of linkages to other bus systems (such as SRTA in Massachusetts — Southeastern Regional Transit Authority). "I'm going to write my Congressional people to seek the waiver," he said.
RIPTA is presenting the early results of its Comprehensive Operational Analysis of all transit needs in the state, a project begun last May and now in its final stages. It has conducted meetings recently in Barrington, Warwick, Gloucester, Warren, Pawtucket and Newport.
In Tiverton Town Hall Monday, Mr. Thierrien told of the "Tiverton & Little Compton Service Options." (The Powerpoint presentation, he said, will soon be available on the RIPTA website.)
"Overall changes to the system will be brought to the RIPTA board in the April/May time frame," said RIPTA spokeswoman Amy Pettine Tuesday morning, and "we would include any possible changes to Tiverton as well at that time."
Following public hearings in May/June, she said, final decisions will be made by the board in June. If service were to be added to Tiverton, she said, "September would be the soonest."
Anyone wishing to leave a comment for RIPTA on its website, on the matter of busing in Tiverton and Llttle Compton, is invited to do so, Ms. Pettine said. Just click the link and leave the comment.