General Assembly approves controversial RIPTA board changes

RIDOT director misses half the board meetings. Now he would have to chair them.

By: - June 13, 2023 8:37 pm

A Rhode Island Public Transit Authority bus en route from Newport enters Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE —  The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) may likely get additional oversight power over the state’s sole bus operator.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 46-21 to approve legislation that adds an additional member to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s (RIPTA) eight-member board and designates RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. as its chair. 

Alviti currently serves as an ex-officio member of the board. Alviti has missed 14 of RIPTA’s 28 meetings — a 50% attendance rate — since 2021, according to the board’s meeting minutes. 

He would replace current chair Normand Benoit, who was appointed by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2015. Benoit declined to comment on his potential demotion. 

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

The legislation was sponsored in the House on June 7 by Rep. Anthony DeSimone, a Providence Democrat. 

“As we continue to examine the future of transportation in the state, it is important that all of our state departments have clear lines of communication and collaboration,” DeSimone said in a statement released Tuesday. “This bill will provide that clarity within RIPTA and will serve the customers of RIPTA and the residents of the state well into the future.”

Companion legislation was sponsored in the upper chamber by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and passed through the House 48-19. 

Ruggerio’s bill passed through the Senate earlier this month.

The Senate President initially called for RIPTA to fold into the DOT, but was amended in late May. Ruggerio said he still would like to see RIDOT oversee all transportation matters in the state, but that “this is an important step toward alignment of all our transportation goals.”

Ruggerio’s legislation now heads to the governor’s office for consideration. The change would take effect July 1.

Rep. David Morales, a Providence Democrat, speaks on the House floor about the need for RIDOT to advocate for the needs of transit riders. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

Transit riders oppose the change

Transit advocates have voiced their discontent against the idea of having Alviti chair RIPTA’s board, saying he’s too “car-centric” in his approach to transit policy and hesitant to implement the state’s transit master plan. They’ve also been unhappy with Alviti’s absences from board meetings.

“They don’t really have a good handle at all on transit issues,” John Flaherty, deputy director of GrowSmart Rhode Island, said in an interview after the House vote. “The focus of the chair is on moving transit forward, not the other elements of his day job.”

Flaherty added that the bills passed by the General Assembly are “a solution in search of a problem: a lack of funding.” RIPTA is projecting a $40 million budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.

“RIPTA is not broken,” Flaherty said. “They’re doing the best they can with the few dollars they have.”

Rep. David Morales, a Providence Democrat, voted against the measure but said on the House floor Tuesday that he hopes RIDOT uses this new oversight to advocate for rider needs and the transit master plan. The plan envisions a statewide public transit system with frequent buses, light rail and dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding transportation hubs.

“Managing the roadways across the state — that’s an important job and a busy one,” Flaherty said.

In a statement to the Rhode Island Current earlier this month, Alviti said, “I and RIDOT stand ready to execute whatever legislative mission directives come from the governor, Senate, and the House of Representatives.”

Flaherty expressed his hope that Alviti lives up to his promises. Flaherty said he would be willing to “be the first in line to help” Alvit as the new chair.

“This is not about personality, this is about policy,” Flaherty  said. “We’ve got to work together to move things forward.”


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.