Possible changes coming to RIPTA board following Senate vote
Transit advocates wary of reforms sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio presents one of two bills on the Senate floor Thursday he sponsored to that would change the way RIPTA’s Board of Directors operates. (Screenshot)
PROVIDENCE — The director of the state’s Department of Transportation (RIDOT) already serves as a member of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s (RIPTA) Board of Directors, but he could become its chair after the passage of a bill in the state Senate Thursday.
Sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, the bill would add one additional member to RIPTA’s eight-member board and designate RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. as chair.
That would mean an automatic demotion for current board chair Normand Benoit, who was appointed by then-Gov. Gina Raymond in 2015. The board did not respond to request for comment on Ruggerio’s bill.
The Senate voted 26-8 to pass Ruggerio’s bill, which was amended last week to scale back his call earlier this year to move RIPTA from being an independent agency to falling under the control of RIDOT.
Senate spokesman Greg Pare said Ruggerio still would like to see RIDOT oversee all transportation matters in the state.
“This is an important step toward alignment of all our transportation goals, effective procurement and efficient use of federal funds, and moving our public transportation agency forward,” Ruggerio said in a statement.
Ruggerio had also called for the resignation of CEO Scott Avedisian in the wake of the agency’s staffing shortages and finance issues. RIPTA is looking at a budget shortfall of $40 million in the next year after federal COVID money runs out.
But in May, the RIPTA board voted unanimously to grant Avedisian a two-year contract extension.
Patricia Raub, the co-chair of RI Transit Riders, said she was disappointed in the Senate’s vote.
“It scrambles the independence of RIPTA,” she said. “This gives him outsized influence. That’s not healthy.”
Mass transit advocates view Alviti as too “car-centric” in his approach to transit policy, Raub said.
However, Raub said Alviti had good managerial skills and supports the state’s Transit Master Plan, which envisions a statewide public transit system with frequent buses, light rail and dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding transportation hubs.
Alviti has been absent from two recent meetings.
“I and RIDOT stand ready to execute whatever legislative mission directives come from the governor, Senate, and the House of Representatives,” Alviti said in an email.
Greater board influence on expenditures
The Senate also unanimously passed legislation sponsored by Ruggerio which requires RIPTA’s Board of Directors to approve expenditures between $10,000 to $50,000. Procurements by the agency in excess of $50,000 would be subject to a competitive bidding process.
Ruggerio said the bill was developed after questions were raised during the Senate Oversight Committee’s hearing on RIPTA earlier this year about the agency approving an $84,000 contract with a lobbyist without a board vote.
“It will actively engage the agency’s Board of Directors in the purchasing process by providing clear guidance, enhancing transparency, and ensuring valuable oversight,” Ruggerio said of his bill.
Avedesian emailed a statement to Rhode Island Current Friday “thanks to RIPTA’s dedicated team, we’re continuously modernizing the agency to meet the needs of the state – beginning to electrify our fleet, bus routes to major employment hubs, like Quonset and Newport, improving our finances, and implementing the Transit Master Plan which is critical to meeting the state’s climate goals.”
“My goal has been and will always be to work in collaboration with all individuals that sit on our Board of Directors, especially now,” he said. “Moving transit forward is our top priority.”
Ruggerio’s proposals now go to the State House for consideration.
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