Saturday, March 24, 2012

Here's that link:

Together, we can get the Public Transit Investment Act passed. Please sign up for the RIPTA Riders list serve to find out about the next steps in preserving and expanding public transportation in Rhode Island. We're going to need a huge turnout at the statehouse when our bill gets heard. Can you be there?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

RIPTA Leadership Put On Notice

Before the last RIPTA Board meeting, we sent letters to RIPTA's leadership (Charles Odimgbe CEO, the Board, and Paul Harrington of the ATU). Below is the text of that letter. In essence, we hope that the divisiveness that has grown recently between management and labor can be put aside so that the more urgent task of addressing the flawed RIPTA financing mechanism can be adequately addressed through legislation.

Attention: Mr. Odimgbe, Members of the RIPTA Board, and Mr. Harrington

Dear RIPTA leaders,

On behalf of the RIPTA Riders group and all Rhode Island transit users, we offer our deepest condolences for the loss of Bradford Oxnard and Andy Santagata. We support and admire the hard work of bus drivers in providing public transit to us. In honor of their memories, we respectfully suggest a change of course so that this critical service can be preserved and indeed expanded to meet the needs of Rhode Islanders.

There is an old saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Times are admittedly tough for RIPTA, and right now we need to toughen up, roll up our sleeves, and work together to get through these trials intact. Despite significant concessions by labor arrived at through negotiations in good faith with management, and despite continued progress in making RIPTA more efficient, the agency faces a daunting budget deficit and a future of declining gas tax proceeds that promises more of the same. RIPTA Riders applauds the efforts of both labor and management to control costs, but we caution that the continuing budget deficit cannot be solved by cuts, concessions, or efficiencies. The problem must be addressed at its root by changing RIPTA’s funding mechanism.

There is an older saying that applies to our current situation: President Lincoln said “a house divided cannot stand.” The same holds true for transit agencies.  RIPTA Riders calls on the RIPTA Board, Management, and Labor to put their differences aside and come to terms with the fact that they have done internally all they can to put RIPTA on sound financial footing. Continued divisiveness between labor and management will not yield a solution to the real problem, and it is reinforcing an unwarranted image of dysfunction that can only hurt efforts to truly address the problem with legislation.

For the good of RIPTA and for the good of the public that it serves, please reconcile your differences and join RIPTA Riders in turning to the task at hand. A united campaign to fill the current deficit and fix public transportation’s broken financing on the part of RIPTA’s Board, its Riders, its Labor, and its Management is the only option that we have if we wish to succeed in ensuring that RIPTA’s mission ("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.") is met. Let us speak with one voice and demand the support and respect that public transportation deserves.


RIPTA Riders

Thursday, October 27, 2011

RIPTA Riders Demand "No Cuts"

Providence, Rhode Island- Public transportation supporters gathered with members of the Occupy Providence movement at 12:45pm in Kennedy Plaza to board the #20 bus to RIPTA’s monthly board of directors meeting. They came together with signs and slogans to oppose service cuts that will go into effect in December unless the board acts to stop them.

Abel Collins, a member of RIPTA Riders and the program manager of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that “RIPTA’s board and management need to make every effort to solve their budget deficit without cutting service critical to riders, but those efforts have not yet been made.”

“Before cuts are made, the board has a duty to seek funding that will allow RIPTA to maintain its current service” added Randall Rose, a RIPTA Riders and Occupy Providence member, “in fact, they have a responsibility to pursue the funds necessary to implement the strategic plan they adopted earlier this year that seeks to expand public transportation”...

Download full press release

Sunday, October 23, 2011

RITPA Riders Meeting - Monday 10/24 @ 8PM

RIPTA Riders will be holding its next meeting tomorrow at 8PM in Burnside Park - right next to Kennedy Plaza. We will be holding the meeting as part of the Occupy Providence protest that has taken hold of the park as a forum to address change in Rhode Island.

Support for public transit in Rhode Island should become a central issue in the contemporary political discussion. Transit is important the 99%. To support the type of economic growth that benefits all citizens, we need to base the economic recovery on projects and services that everyone can use and enjoy.

Public transit is an inclusive issue that gets to the heart of the disconnect between Americans rich and poor. If we develop public transit in Rhode Island we will create immediate jobs in the state and allow people of all backgrounds get back to work. Improving public transportation will mean investing in an asset that will make the state more attractive to employers and employees alike. In what better way can we kick start an egalitarian recovery?

Rhode Islanders should demand a new era of public transportation and ridership in the state. We should seek a bus system where a businessman sits next to a janitor - both on their way to work. Where a college professor sits next to a high school student - both on their way to class. Where an unemployed pregnant woman sits next to a doctor - both on their way to the hospital. We need a system that can get everyone where they need to go so that we can all get back on our feet.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Rhode Islanders Should Support RIPTA

I am tempted to cite statistics that prove the value of public transportation to economic development; to give worker and student ridership percentages and the savings those riders realize by taking the bus; to give statistics of how ridership has gone up in recent years despite fare increases, to point out that we will never adequately reduce carbon emissions without a robust public transit system; to elaborate the health benefits associated with the more active lifestyle of a transit rider and the improved air quality of communities with less congested roadways; et cetera.

In a more rational world, these valid and persuasive arguments would already have convinced state leaders to preserve and expand Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) service, but there is a more powerful reason to help RIPTA, one suited to our more irrational times. Justifying public transportation service is part of a larger debate about the legitimacy of any and all government services.

Thirty years of the general policy of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of corporations and banks, and cuts to public services for citizens has created a seriously unbalanced situation. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the policies that perpetuate it are shameful. They are antithetical to the Christian values that many of us claim as guiding principles and to the simple secular value of treating others as we would be treated. Meanwhile, the government has been starved of the revenue it needs to secure a basic standard of living for its people, just as the ranks of those people who need assistance have been pushed to an epic scale (15 million+ jobless, 46 million US citizens living in poverty, 45 million on food stamps).

Here we are. It’s a delicate moment in our nation’s history when this lack of balance threatens to deliver us into a second Great Depression. For rich and poor alike the atmosphere is full of fear, uncertainty, distrust and anger. We are justifiably hesitant to do anything but hide our heads in the sand.

The dominant modern narrative holds that the government is broke, the people are broke, and we can’t afford to provide any social safety net any longer. Subsidizing our failed financial industry and other mega-corporations while sacrifices are demanded from the people are the prescriptions of the day, redoubling the policies that brought us here. Following this narrative is dangerously irresponsible.

Contrary to the myth, the truth is that the United States economy is bigger than it’s ever been. The gross domestic product is more than 14 trillion dollars. As a country we have never been more rich, but that money is in the hands of a small privileged group.  Does it really make sense to coddle them and cut services for the rest of us? Since our economy is so dependent on consumer spending, doesn’t it make sense both morally and economically to give help where it is needed?

Thus, I present to you public transit as the service where those who care about the forgotten, underserved, and disenfranchised in this society must not back down. RIPTA is the battleground where we need to stop appeasing the bullies and start pushing back and arguing for expanding public services.

Public transportation is the pivot issue, because of all those rational temptations listed back at the beginning of this essay. RIPTA provides a public service critical to social and economic justice, while it is also an engine for business, and vital to the interests of the environmental, and health service communities, not to mention for people who just want to save a buck by leaving the car at home.

To be brief, public transit is where we stand and fight, because it is where we can win. Winning will boost the morale of the compassionate majority and restore some faith in fairness. At the same time it will demonstrate that investing in a public service is good for everybody. Furthermore, winning will give us momentum for whatever cause comes next, and there are many waiting.

Unless the US Congress and the RI general assembly take action to provide adequate and sustainable funding for public transit, RIPTA will face massive service cuts next summer that make this year’s 10% proposed reductions seem small. We have six months to stop that from happening, and we must start now. The first step is to go to sign the “save ripta” petition. The least you can do is put your name on it. If you want to do more than that, get in touch with your local senator and representative and let them know you care. If they don’t listen, they can always be voted out.

This is a slightly different version of the op-ed I wrote that appeared in the Providence Journal today. You can find the projo piece here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Initial news coverage of the service cuts adopted by the RIPTA Board on Channel 10.

Clearly, this is a disappointing decision, though not unexpected. The board was uncomfortable with the idea of engaging in extensive deficit spending. They were also hesitant to slash a large number of jobs or institute big service cuts. Instead, they chose a middle path with a little deficit spending (1.9 million dollars), layoffs limited to about 20 positions, and smaller service reductions.

The Board seemingly believes that these efforts to tighten the agency's belt will bolster their argument for funding reform at the Statehouse in the coming legislative session. Personally, I am not convinced that they needed to make the service cuts, and I believe they could have moved forward with deficit spending on the order of 2.9 million dollars.  This belief is at least partially vindicated by the repeated calls of Senator John Tassoni at the meeting for the board to come and ask for supplemental funding for RIPTA during the special session in October.

For what it's worth, here is the statement I submitted to the board on behalf of Sierra Club RI:

Dear Chairman Deller and Members of the Board,

The Sierra Club Rhode Island Chapter commends the efforts of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618 to close the budget deficit.  The sacrifices that have been made on both sides, many as a result of good faith negotiations, have narrowed the gap that needs to be filled considerably.  However, these efforts have not been sufficient to balance the budget entirely, and you are now faced with the difficult decision of whether to move forward with deficit spending or to cut transit service to make up the difference.

On behalf of the more than 2500 members of the Rhode Island Chapter, I urge the Board to refuse to cut any service and to engage in whatever deficit spending is necessary to preserve current service levels.  As you are well aware, RIPTA’s perennial deficit problem is mostly a result of a poorly designed funding mechanism.  It is irresponsible and shortsighted to address this perennial problem by annually raising fares, cutting service, or finding internal efficiencies without addressing the central issue of funding.  At some point, RIPTA has to say that any further cuts are inconsistent with the organization’s mission and vision.  At some point, RIPTA must demand that the state’s political leaders be responsible and take a longer view.

Now is that time.  After holding public hearings on service cuts and fare increases 29 times over the last 32 years, enough is enough.  Since the most recent public hearing process began in late July, a grassroots effort has sprung to life to preserve public transportation.  More than 2200 Rhode Islanders have demanded that the state’s political leaders take action to ensure there are no service cuts.  You heard the same message from the hundreds of citizens who came out to the hearings.  Listen to them, and don’t let our politicians off the hook again.  Don’t let them get away with the continued inaction on addressing RIPTA’s funding crisis that forces the hard decisions onto you.

Please make your stand here and do not reduce RIPTA’s critical public service.  Thank you for your consideration.


Abel G. Collins
Program Manager, Sierra Club RI Chapter

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tuesday September 20th - Don't X Out Public Transit Rally

In partnership with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), RIPTA and the bus drivers' union, RIPTA Riders will be holding a rally Tuesday, September 20th, at 10 AM in Kennedy Plaza.

The rally in Providence is part of a national effort to oppose cuts in federal funding for public transportation. Congress has proposed slashing a third of the federal budget for public transportation, an outcome that would be devastating to transit services across the country.

Please Join us in getting out the word: Don't X out Public Transit!

Where: Kennedy Plaza in Providence
When: Tuesday, September 20th at 10 AM
What to wear: Show your opposition to cuts by wearing red. You can display your solidarity even if you can't make it to the rally!