Downtown Residents Speak Out Against Proposed RIPTA Cuts

by | Mar 5, 2024

Two routes serving downtown EG would be affected

By Jared Paolino

Proposed service changes to RIPTA’s statewide buses have the potential to drastically affect East Greenwich residents who rely on the service.

RIPTA announced the proposed service changes in January, and the RIPTA Board will vote on them on March 28, unless a special meeting is called earlier. The proposed service changes would affect 33 regular bus routes and include the elimination of 11 routes in their entirety, as well as the partial elimination of several others and frequency reductions for several more. Some “high-performing” routes would see increased service.

Two routes serving downtown East Greenwich would be affected: the 14 and the 16.

Route 16 operates at roughly one-hour intervals on weekdays, running from CCRI Warwick to the Kohl’s in North Kingstown. Key stops along the way include Market Basket, Kent County Courthouse, Cowesett Corners Shopping Center, the New England Institute of Technology, and – for residents of downtown East Greenwich – the corner of First Ave & Main Street. Under the proposed service changes, New England Tech would become the final stop, eliminating access via the First & Main Stop.

Route 14, which also stops at First & Main, would see the elimination of Saturday service between North Kingstown and Narragansett.

According to Tracy Johnson, executive director of the East Greenwich Housing Authority (EGHA), the change to Route 16 would be particularly troublesome for tenants of Shoreside Apartments – a property managed by the EGHA that houses low and moderate-income elderly people and people with disabilities.

“We have tenants who utilize Bus 16 to get to their social service programs (recreational and job training), get to medical appointments, and several of our housing families use this line to get to their jobs & schools (college & trade schools),” Johnson said in an email. “The route for Bus 16 is easily accessible for the residents to get on and off and it gives them freedom and independence.”

Sumner Stone, a 77-year-old resident of Shoreside, regularly makes the half-mile walk from Shoreside to First and Main to catch the bus.

“It’s absolutely vital that they keep service to downtown East Greenwich,” Sumner said. If the 16 no longer served this stop, residents wanting to access grocery stores or medical facilities on Bald Hill Road and South Country Trail would have to take the 14 to CCRI Warwick and then backtrack on the 16 in the opposite direction. With how infrequent these buses run, the trip could take several hours.

Jean Ann Guliano said this is the trip her son James, who also lives at Shoreside, would have to make every day he goes to work. She estimates it would take one hour and 45 minutes in each direction, on top of his 8-hour work day.

“That’s tough for neurotypical adults, much less someone with developmental disabilities,” Guliano said. James has autism. (You can read more in this ecoRI profile HERE.)

Stone, Guliano, and other residents hope that the proposed service changes, if approved, will be modified to keep First and Main as part of Route 16. In an email to EG’s state legislators, Town Manager Andrew Nota said he’d been in correspondence with RIPTA officials about the possibility of this route change.

“…we are seeking to build momentum for serious consideration to be offered on this proposal before final decisions are made in the coming weeks/months,” Nota wrote.

Similar battles are taking place in cities and towns across the state. In public hearings throughout February, RIPTA riders from all over routinely expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed service cuts – many similarly reporting that the changes would affect their ability to travel to and from work, access essential services, or enjoy recreation and leisure activities.

According to a RIPTA press release, the reductions in service are a direct response to its driver shortage, and they “are based on data which identified the lowest performing routes and trip times.…” In an effort to recruit more drivers, RIPTA recently announced that it would be increasing driver wages, but it remains to be seen whether the measure will attract new drivers and enable increased service. 

While RIPTA officials have consistently pinned the service cuts on driver shortages alone, transit advocates for groups such as Save RIPTA and the Providence Streets Coalition also argue that RIPTA is chronically underfunded. And advocates have found fault with an expensive project to relocate the bus hub at Kennedy Plaza.

“It’s ridiculous. We’re a state that’s what? 40-45 miles long, 15-20 miles wide, and with a population center that basically runs through the middle of the state,” Sumner said. “All over the state people are just totally fed up, essentially, with the inefficiency.”

Jared Paolino is a freelance journalist; he lives in East Greenwich.

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