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1/10/2024 Op-Ed: Rhode Island needs robust, healthy public transit
Wherever you live in Rhode Island, public transit—directly or indirectly—makes your life better. We are two senators whose districts include the urban core of Pawtucket and Providence, as well as the suburban towns of North Kingstown, Narragansett and New Shoreham. While the geography and demographics of our districts are different, we agree that public transit is a vital resource for all our constituents. And this vital resource is in danger: the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is facing a fiscal cliff that could result in devastating service cuts across the state.

Along with the Providence Streets Coalition and a host of legislative colleagues, community organizers, union members and RIPTA riders, we are asking Governor Dan McKee to meet this pivotal moment for public transit in Rhode Island by including in his budget the $110 million necessary to prevent the fiscal cliff, hire more bus operators and expand transit service statewide.

Transit matters for many reasons, but a few in particular stand out. First: funding public transit, broadly, is a key component of economic development. Companies are looking to set up shop in vibrant cities where talent wants to live. Many studies suggest that for young people, especially millennials, access to public transit is an essential factor in choosing where to settle. To attract and retain talent at the beginning of their working years, we would be wise to invest in our transit.

Second, public transportation is one of the keys to solving our worker staffing problem. Child care and other care economy workers are already struggling with low wages. Without robust and reliable public transit, they are forced to shoulder the added expenses of car ownership, worsening a severe staffing problem. Conversely, expanding our transit system will allow more Rhode Islanders to enter the workforce.

Transit is essential for people with disabilities and the elderly. In the areas of Rhode Island where RIPTA service is limited or nonexistent, some people with disabilities are stranded in their home, unable to work or grocery shop. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of the disability community, we now have a pilot program to provide true statewide public paratransit that enables access to work, medical appointments and community activities. But lines are lifelines, quite literally.

Finally, Rhode Island’s leaders have commendably moved to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from our state’s electrical usage. But more than a third of our emissions come from passenger cars. To meet our climate commitments, we must provide transportation alternatives for our residents that result in fewer vehicles on the road—without investment in transit, there is simply no way to achieve these goals.

Failure to ensure RIPTA’s health would be catastrophic: We would be leaving Rhode Islanders across the state homebound and curtailing our own economic development. We cannot afford to isolate seniors from their communities and medical care, or exacerbate staffing shortages by cutting the service that allows workers to get to their jobs. The Providence Streets Coalition has produced a map of service lines that are on the chopping block based on public comments from RIPTA officials. These cuts would all but eliminate service in parts of the state, and dramatically curtail it in others.

We need $110 million to stay on track. The first $40 million would maintain existing bus service. Another $24 million would hire more bus operators, and increase compensation to align with the cost of living. Nearly half of RIPTA drivers are eligible for retirement next year, leaving our system vulnerable to a catastrophic staffing shortage. RIPTA must be able to recruit drivers to stay operational. The final $46 million implements the Transit Master Plan, and starts the process of building a world-class, statewide public transportation system complete with frequent buses, light rail and dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding transportation hubs by 2040 – all of which is essential to reach the state’s Act on Climate mandates.

We are committed to fully funding both RIPTA and the Transit Master Plan, and we urge our colleagues to join us to include these priorities in the 2025 annual budget.
Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, Providence) and Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown and New Shoreham) serve in the R.I. Senate.

For more information, contact:
Tristan Grau, Publicist
State House Room B20
Providence, RI 02903