Home Editor's Choice Next RIPTA chief will have many challenges to navigate through

Next RIPTA chief will have many challenges to navigate through

Corrected April 23 at 6 p.m.

ADVOCATES for bus riders will be keeping close tabs on the person the R.I. Public Transit Authority hires to lead the agency now that Scott Avedisian has resigned. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ MICHAEL SALERNO
ADVOCATES for bus riders will be keeping close tabs on the person the R.I. Public Transit Authority hires to lead the agency now that Scott Avedisian has resigned. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ MICHAEL SALERNO

Public transit advocates have been adamant that the next CEO of the R.I. Public Transit Authority be someone outside the state’s political sphere who has experience operating a transit system, someone who can navigate an agency through being chronically underfunded and mismanaged for years. While the R.I. Public Transit Authority board solved one problem when

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Public transit advocates have been adamant that the next CEO of the R.I. Public Transit Authority be someone outside the state’s political sphere who has experience operating a transit system, someone who can navigate an agency through being chronically underfunded and mismanaged for years. While the R.I. Public Transit Authority board solved one problem when it accepted the resignation of embattled CEO Scott Avedisian on April 16, other questions are now being raised. Namely, how will the many challenges awaiting the next CEO be addressed and by whom? So far, the RIPTA board appointed agency Chief Financial Officer Christopher Durand as interim CEO. But Amy Glidden and Patricia Raub, co-chairs of the advocacy group RI Transit Rider, are urging state officials to “select a nationally respected transit professional … who is able to put good transit principles first while practicing open communications with riders and the public.” In its search for a permanent CEO, the RIPTA board might consider a mathematician, given the numbers he or she will be met with on the first day. The agency and its roughly 800 employees are now facing an $8 million shortfall in fiscal 2025, despite an additional $10 million in unspent COVID-19 relief funds proposed in Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s budget plan. Ridership has fallen almost 50% in the last decade while services have increased by 18%. There remains a driver shortage despite a recently negotiated pay increase and the controversial $77 million plan to relocate the state’s central bus hub away from Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence. The RIPTA board is pushing forward with the plan to build a new, multistory, mixed-use transit center somewhere in Providence, authorizing a contract with the consortium Next Wave Partners for the preliminary services phase of the public-private venture to begin developing 30% and 60% conceptual designs. In February, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission voted to allow RIPTA to assess the viability of moving its transit center to Parcel 35, agreeing not to issue any request for proposals or negotiate with any other party until Oct. 1. In addition to getting in a few last shots at Avedisian – who was charged for his involvement with a minor hit-and-run accident on March 27 – on his way out the door, transit advocates are taking the opportunity to recenter public focus on improving services to the 3 million monthly ridership. They have lobbied for increased funding, such as the bill introduced by Rep. Karen Alzate, D-Central Falls, to give RIPTA a $79 million infusion to prevent planned service cuts. Other proposals in the works include a bill sponsored by Sen. Meghan Kallman, D-Pawtucket, and Rep. David Morales, D-Providence, that would shift a portion of ride-share sales tax levied on companies such as Uber and Lyft over to RIPTA and add a 75-cent surtax per ride. Another proposal seeks a $100 million general obligation bond to be put before voters on Nov. 5. The new RIPTA chief will also lead the effort to built a new transit hub somewhere in downtown Providence, which has proved to be a controversial process so far. Transit officials are been pushing to move the hub out of Kennedy Plaza at the center of downtown. At first, there was a proposal to build a multiuse structure along Dorrance Street, but then McKee floated the idea of using a vacant parcel in the 195 district that critics say is far from a central location. The Kennedy Plaza Resilience Coalition called the transit hub proposal one of several “farfetched schemes” to move buses out of Kennedy Plaza, an “absurd” multihub initiative that is distracting attention and resources from basic services while allowing Kennedy Plaza to deteriorate. The group suggested state officials did not have the support of RIPTA rank-and-file employees and have “always tried to satisfy powerful leaders rather than serving bus riders' needs.” “We could have a much better system if transit professionals were left to do their jobs, and not pressured into supporting things like a Providence hub relocation that make no sense for transit,” the coalition said. “If RIPTA's next leader is allowed to run the system according to genuine transit principles, we can renovate the plaza as a modern bus hub, to the benefit of Providence residents, the bus system and the state as a whole.” It is unclear how long RIPTA will go with an interim CEO. House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio have called for the agency to conduct a national search for “the best available transit expert in the country." During an April 10 House Finance Committee hearing, Conservation Law Foundation senior attorney Richard Stang spoke in opposition to pending legislation that would authorize RIPTA to move forward with the new transit center, saying it was “no secret that the preferred location” among state officials was the I-195 district parcel. “CLF implores you to stop listening to the wants of big developers and address the needs of the many,” he said. (SUBS 9th paragraph to CORRECT to $100 million.) 
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