Gimme shelter: Waiting for the bus could get a little more comfortable in Rhode Island
RIPTA surveying all 3,500 bus stops as it eyes doubling the number of shelters
Bus stop, bus goes, shelters can’t stay like this one on Reservoir Avenue in Providence. (Courtesy Providence Streets Coalition)
Bus riders could have new, state-of-the art covered bus stops as the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) eyes replacing — and adding more — bus shelters across the state.
A program still in preliminary stages seeks to identify the most appropriate locations for shelters and what amenities RIPTA could include and maintain, such as seating, lighting, real-time travel information and more detailed route information, agency spokesperson Cristy Raposo Perry said. The plan also includes doubling the number of sheltered stops.
Raposo Perry said a new shelter design is “currently out to bid” and will be presented to the full RIPTA board at its meeting scheduled for Oct. 25.
“The full program costs and funding sources are still under discussion,” she said.
The program itself is part of the larger Rhode Island Transit Master Plan, which envisions a statewide public transit system with frequent buses, light rail and dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding transportation hubs.
But before new shelters can happen, RIPTA will take inventory of its more than 3,500 bus stops across the state — a process started in mid-August, Raposo Perry said. She added that the agency hopes to wrap up the review by spring 2024.
Approximately 10% of all stops have a shelter, Raposo Perry said.
“The bus stop inventory that is underway will help clarify this number,” she said.
Riders cautiously optimistic on new stops
The study is independent of a failed bill sponsored by Rep. David Morales, a Providence Democrat, that sought a mandate for RIPTA to conduct a study exploring the feasibility of installing benches and overhead canopies at each bus stop. The legislation never made it past the Senate’s Housing and Municipal Government committee after a hearing on June 9.
Morales said in a phone interview he’s happy to see the transit agency step up.
“I won’t take credit for this, but it’s definitely based on my legislation,” he said with a laugh.
Patricia Raub, co-chair of RI Transit Riders, said the current state of sheltered bus stops are “one of riders’ biggest complaints” and that replacements are very much welcome.
“The worst ones are the ones that have plexiglass panels in the back that have been broken and removed,” she said. “In the winter, when the wind is whistling around, it’s really cold and you have no place to shelter yourself.”
Providence Streets Coalition organizer Liza Burkin said she supports a bus shelter program. She said her stop at Reservoir Avenue near Algonquin Street in Providence is covered in graffiti and has exposed wires and debris near the benches.
“So many of our bus shelters are horrible or nonexistent,” Burkin said.
She added that getting updated shelters would be especially needed if projected cuts to service are to take place. RIPTA is currently facing $40 million in fiscal year 2025, which the agency predicts would lead to 400 layoffs and the elimination of eight standard and nine express routes, along with a reduction in service to 15 routes if the issue is not resolved.
“If your bus that used to come every 30 minutes now only comes once an hour, that is a lot more time exposed to the elements,” she said.
The worst ones are the ones that have plexiglass panels in the back that have been broken and removed.
– Patricia Raub, co-chair of RI Transit Riders
The prospect of budget cuts worries Burkin about whether RIPTA can actually get new shelters implemented sooner rather than later, which is why she said her organization plans to campaign throughout the upcoming legislative session to ensure the state’s sole bus operator can continue services.
“We absolutely can and must do better,” she said. “That primarily means identifying a new long term, sustainable funding source that does not rely on federal monies or the gas tax.”
In that respect, Morales said he intends to secure full funding in next year’s state budget. RIPTA officials in March said the state could top $300 million in funds to support RIPTA each year, but no board votes were ever taken on how to proceed.
“We’re going to have to claw to ensure that it gets the basic, full investment that it deserves,” Morales said. “The funding is there — it’s all about political will.”
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