RIPTA has ridership and funding issues, what can we do?

This is to call attention to some troubling RIPTA statistics.

FISCAL YEAR     # of FIXED ROUTE RIDERS  (from 2016 Audit)
2008                   21.1 million  (peak year in last 10)
2014                   19.8 million
2015                   18.1 million
2016                   17.8 million

So far, thru December 2016 (before the 50 cent low income fare fare took effect!) ridership is down about another 815,000 so we are heading for only around 17 million in FY 2017. And this decline comes despite a Comprehensive Operations Analysis project to improve routes, the expensive Kennedy Plaza redesign, the rapid “R-line,” and all the efforts of advocates to improve things.

So RIPTA is far, far, from living up to its potential to help restore our core cities, keep our energy dollars within the state, and improve our environment and economy, as transit is helping do in other locations.

Looking ahead, there may soon be a 50 cent increase in the basic fare, Citizens Bank is moving much of its workforce from the metro area to the Johnston woods, the Trump administration is likely to reduce Federal support, and the state may end the car tax costing about $215 million in state revenue at the expense of everything else.

I think ridership is declining for several inter-related reason: cheap gas, businesses moving out of city centers, investment in lots of expensive “free” parking, real and perceived problems in Kennedy Plaza, and the widespread view that the buses are just for the poor, the latter reinforced by the campaign to keep all the “free” riding.

What to do?  I see 3 possible strategies:

  1. Give up on a first class transit system, let RIPTA wither and accept it will become a limited system mainly for the poor, elderly and some students;
  2. Try to keep it going more or less as is, though that will take more subsidies, and asking for more money from the legislature with less and less riders doesn’t seem promising;
  3. Try to build a first class transit system as Grow-Smart RI and allies are still trying to do as evidenced by their recent conference where a transit expert was brought in from Portland OR to make suggestions.

Though attendees are well meaning, the only way I see possible for real progress is if the Governor’s Office took leadership and convened a broad group of stakeholders (RIPTA and RIDOT staff, the MBTA, Statewide Planning, legislative and municipal leaders, the RI Foundation, the business community, labor, Grow-Smart, the RIPTA Riders Allaince, and other advocates/non-profits, and charged them with turning things around.  I think this will take additional funding, employer and union cooperation, parking reform, and some visionary thinking.

Indeed there are opportunities with the coming Providence train station bus hub and downtown enhanced transit corridor, our Boston-NY Northeast Corridor location, a 14 point list of incremental improvements already issued by the RIPTA Riders Alliance,  plenty of good people in all the groups listed above, and the nature of Rhode Islanders that generally care about enhancing our state, protecting the most vulnerable, and combating climate change.
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RIPTA has ridership and funding issues, what can we do?, 5.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

Barry Schiller served on the Board of the Transit Authority 1995-99.
He can be reached at

9 responses to “RIPTA has ridership and funding issues, what can we do?”

  1. salgal

    Seriously, there are excellent transit systems all over this country. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? Someone from Portland, OR, which has a truly impressive system, was recently here in person. What happened? Did people listen? Ask questions? Engage?

    Seems like the panel you recommend the Gov convene should include more people from cities that have figured this out because obviously, for whatever combo of typical Rhode Island bullshit reasons, the people “working” on the issue here have no friggin’ clue how to proceed.

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  2. transportprovidence

    Here’s that speaker from Portland, Oregon (Barry was present by the way. . . ).

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  3. riprotest

    Mr. Schiller, I reiterate some principals in some past posts. Why is it good for you to college in free, but the poor can’t have free bus passes? Why are trying to rob the poor box to hijack public transport by elitists. What your trying in same mold are the special interests attempting to control Burnside Park. Some of the people are involved in Grow Smart, RI.
    Amy Pettine, the RIPTA planner a SG’r is in the Providence Parks Conservatory, she’s another “Buffy Wuffy” Chace’s supporter. Ray Studley RIPTA’s Executive Director as well as Karen Santelli, the Executive Director of Crossroads is another Chace’s supporter in PPC. It’s RIPTA Mr. Schiller, not the Buffy Wuffy Busline.
    Chace, from far from altruistic reasons, Chace
    Pettine and Studley are paid by the people in this state, not by Grow Smart RI. Smart Growers have developed a crony network by buying from other SGr’s also.
    By the way Mr. Schiller, I’m want one of the low income that you so much disdain. Last April, I suffered my 4th heart attack with simultaneously a stroke. Additionally, I diagnosed with diabetes with neuropathy with my doctor telling me I’m the path to losing my feet. I represent the day life challenges many other riders with similar experiences who need RIPTA as an imperative lifeline.
    RIPTA is not a social trendy or a convenience for someone and their wife can save money by eliminating the cost of like you. Most of my brothers and sisters don’t have car with little to save.

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  4. riprotest

    Hi, I apologize I forgot to paste a portion on the above post.

    Chace, far from altruistic reasons, Chace got involved with Crossroads because he didn’t like the aesthetics at the Travelers Aid near his properties. In short, he didn’t want poor people near his buildings. He still trying the same with Burnside Park.

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  5. cailin rua

    I’m wondering who watched the video linked to by one of the commenters above:

    Mr. Walker has a Ph.D. in theater arts from Stanford.

    What the lecture is all about:

    23:00 to 24:00 minutes into the video – “What drives up real estate demand.”

    24:40- while you may be able sell someone real estate value with that sort of signal, what, ultimately, is going to create long term real estate value is the ‘law of liberty'(?).”

    25:05 – “you design to maximize people’s liberty(?).”

    39:00 – “Entitlements”, “the taxpayers are subsidizing you”(you, of course ARE the taxpayer, i. e., not a ‘staleholder’)

    41:00 – audience member delivers false narrative about how much the U S was like Europe before, “we abandoned our cities”(which of course did not have anything to do with the Urban Land Institute’s last round of urban renewal, ‘slum’ clearing, removing residents from communities for redevelopment a la University Heights, etc., the same ULI who Walker often delivers his addresses to, which is what GrowSmart is known as in other cities)

    48:00 – “. . . . please note, this is entirely a conservative Republican argument”(here the true colors of the ‘new urbanist’ are in full display), “Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand” and “that is how the free market works.” “The whole point of parking pricing, for example, is the liberation of the forces of the free market . . . “, “those squishy liberal Democrats from San Francisco”(Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt, I would assume, how ‘squishy’.)

    52:30 – “great question”(about labor unions . . . subtext: master thespian doesn’t really like them Automation will save us. Transit workers can move to Kentucky w/ coal miners). The bit about how foolish it is that just because a few generations ago members of union families couldn’t get along with those who want to remain established as the ruling class doesn’t mean that now that they’re all going to be replaced by automation there shouldn’t be any reason not to give the power brokers every little thing they want now while they still have jobs(but not before GoLocal publicly shames them on their pages).

    55:35 – who the dog and pony show has been produced on behalf of which brings us back to what was said at 39:00 – “Entitlements”, “the taxpayers are subsidizing you”(you, of course, ARE the taxpayer, i. e. not a ‘staleholder’).

    So, someone looking for a parking space is looking to be subsidized but not this person, Buff Chase, who the owner of the blog that put this video up works for, and who closes out the spectacle starting out @ 55 minutes and 35 seconds into the video.

    We’re all working for the Pharaoh but not all of us are slaves. Some are enthusiastic volunteers. Brings to mind an old song by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. One has to wonder what’s in it for them.

    Next up? Mill complex developers for gun control? Das Progressives!

    This is pathetic.

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    1. transportprovidence

      I think when you have a coalition of people who are concerned about the nature of car culture, it’s naturally a broad coalition, and some of the things you have to say about particular people in it are probably true. I have nothing *against* Buff Chase, but I know I joked to the person next to me at the conference that “Only Buff Chase gets follow-up questions”. Because he did get follow-ups! Buff Chase asked multiple questions and basically got a mini-press conference of his own because of his status and wealth. As far as I can gather from my limited interactions with him, he seems genuinely interested in transit for good as well as selfish reasons, but there’s no doubt that he’s a very privileged man who lives completely outside the experience of normal people, myself included. And it’s good to question that.

      But that said– I wish you wouldn’t cast the entire project of reducing car use in such a conspiratorial light. Al Gore is a multimillionaire, and many of his political decisions are ones that I don’t subscribe to, but he’s not making up climate change. Buff Chase may be a flawed human being with an inordinate amount of privilege, but his existence in a coalition of people concerned with transit does not mean the whole edifice has been designed to deliver the New World Order.

      And that’s all.

      –A “certain” commenter

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    2. cailin rua

      replying to my own comment:

      Even though it was Buff Chace(Chace, not Chase, I’m sorry) who brought people like Andres Duany to build his downtown Potemkin village and it is he who provides the inspiration for the “new urbanist” putsch, it would be foolish to think that everything that’s gone on downtown since the Sundlun/Paolino era wouldn’t have happened w/out him. The only time we have parking problems downtown is when there is something going on at the civic center or during the Water Fire spectacles which are worthy of a Society of the Spectacle analysis.

      It has to be acknowledged that Buff Chace and his mother have revitalized many of the city’s cherished historic structures. I do love old buildings. People like him glom all the tax credits, though, and are responsible for the influence of the Corso effect. Both he, the mill complex developers, some of whom are prominent “gun control” “advocates” who seek to influence local politics, put a lot of pressure on small time property owners, legislatively and administratively.

      To assert that someone parking downtown, where, last week, at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon there were at least 4 parking spots on Exchange St. next to the Citizens Bank, just a few feet away from Kennedy Plaza, are making it so “the taxpayers are subsidizing you” is a patently absurd argument to make when one considers not only the Buff Chaces, but the Proccaciantis, the Carpionatos, the Blue Crosses, the Hasbros, the Providence Place Malls(whoever the owners are now), etc., etc., etc. who all get beaucoup write-offs.

      The question remains: who should pay to restructure the mess downtown with the expanded highway to increase mall traffic the neo-lib Democrats, Sundlun and Paolino left us with? Then there is the question of how the redesign will take shape and who is to benefit by it. Blue Cross is moving how many of its workers out of its tax payer subsidized Taj Mahal, but it’s people who grab a parking space for a few minutes to do business downtown who are the real problem??? Yeah, sure. Wexford and G E won’t pay, so pick the pockets of those who can least afford it? What kind of public policy is that? Ultimately, the New Urbanism is about elitism and enclosure to be paid for by the people the neolibs would like to lock out.

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  6. cailin rua

    This is what is happening in the urban here and there:

    Those peasants were so entitled. If Jim Sensenbrenner were around during those times they never would have been coddled the way they were.

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