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

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