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RIPTA's Annual Financial Crisis

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Fox opposes plan to cut bus routes

The House majority leader becomes the latest, and most powerful, voice to object to a plan to avoid a projected $8-million budget deficit.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer

Saturday, October 25, 2003

PROVIDENCE -- A top legislative leader yesterday denounced plans to sharply cut the state's bus service, saying the state needs more and better mass transit, not less.

"We do not want to see service cuts," said House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, D-Providence. He said that he wants to "enhance the public transit system," not reduce it, and that he expects the legislature will agree.

Fox was the latest, and by far the most powerful, voice to object to a plan before the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board of directors to avoid a projected $8-million budget deficit next fiscal year by cutting bus service.

As other objections to the cuts continued, Jeff Neal, Governor Carcieri's press secretary, said the governor hasn't made up his mind on RIPTA and is not endorsing the service-reduction plan.

"He wants to look at what the consequences would be if service reductions were put into place," Neal said. "He wants to go through the budget line by line."

Fox is second in command in the Democratic House leadership, and his party has solid majorities in both the House and Senate. The Democratic legislators in July easily overrode Republican Carcieri's veto of the state budget, passing their version instead.

Fox said he wants to meet with RIPTA's leaders to work toward a solution. Neal said the governor wants to do the same thing, and also to meet with Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline. Cicilline on Wednesday sharply criticized the cutbacks and said they would undermine vital aspects of city life, such as jobs, business, tourism and education.

The state chapter of the Sierra Club, meanwhile, also opposed the RIPTA cuts, saying that Carcieri should appoint a high-level commission "to look at what transit service the state of Rhode Island needs."

"People need transit to get to work, run errands, go to the doctor and visit their families," said Alicia Karpick, executive director of the environmental group's Rhode Island chapter. "Transit service benefits the environment and helps to keep our air and water clean."

RIPTA's directors haven't yet addressed the deficit, and the transit budget may not be settled until the General Assembly takes final action, some time next spring, on the state budget.

The governor has become a focus of attention and speculation among those involved in RIPTA. That's partly because Carcieri's choice as RIPTA board chairman, Robert D. Batting, is pressing the staff for ways to close the budget gap, and partly because any solution will almost certainly involve the governor.

Carcieri saved RIPTA from a fiscal debacle this year by transferring $2.7 million in revenue from the state gasoline tax, covering most of a budget deficit. But now the authority is facing the same problem, only bigger, for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Fox said what's been done is merely a "Band-Aid approach" to a continuing problem the state must confront.

He said that mass transit is both an important social service and a key economic development tool. "You have to have buses going to where the Amgens are, and to Aquidneck Island, where the defense industry is," Fox said. (Amgen, the big pharmaceutical company, has a complex in West Greenwich.)

Finding a way to pay for more RIPTA service, Fox said, "is going to be the $100,000 question. We have to do something different than slice up the gas tax." A key source of transportation funding, the gasoline tax (31 cents per gallon) is already the highest in the nation.

Carcieri has made cutting state spending and holding down taxes the focus of his administration.

The instantly controversial plan to cut service emerged at a RIPTA board meeting Monday, as Batting demanded that Alfred E. Moscola, RIPTA's general manager, produce a strategy to balance next year's budget.

Without new revenue, that would mean cutting more than 10 percent of RIPTA's projected $67.6 million in spending. The agency's money goes primarily to pay employees, notably drivers and mechanics, and to fuel. Cutting the budget significantly, transit officials say, means cutting service.

The current plan would eliminate service on holidays and on Saturday and Sunday after 7 p.m., and also weekday service after 9 p.m. It would eliminate summer service from the cities to the beaches, end trolley service in Providence and cut an unspecified number of routes with few riders.

The result, critics say, would hurt the poor and working poor who don't have cars, those trying to get to school, the elderly and disabled -- all the while contributing to traffic congestion and air pollution.

The staff said the proposal was based on cutting nonessential service first, duplicative service next and "low performing" routes, with few riders, last. The staff said it put a priority on keeping trips to work intact.

Moscola, along with some board members and other transit supporters, argues that the trouble with RIPTA isn't that it's too expensive, but rather that it doesn't have enough money to supply the service Rhode Islanders need and want.

From The Providence Journal

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There are a few questions about this article a person on the outside may ask. Why is there a 2.7 mil shortfall this year and 8mil next? Was funding reduced at some point? Why such a big jump all of a sudden?

Providence has trolleys?

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Trolley buses, those tour bus things that look like an old trolley. There's 2 routes that run across the city, North/South and East/West. I use the Green Line (East/West) one a lot. I live on Federal Hill (west side) and work sort of near the East Side end. If I'm lazy I take the trolley and have a shorter walk then just walking straight from home to work.

The "trolleys" are actually quite a big piece of Providence's tourist plan, they connect important visitor areas (restaurants on Federal Hill, shops on Thayer Street, galleries on Wickenden Street, the Marriot north of the State House, the State House itself, Providence Place, and the hospitals, and Providence College). Brown and RISD students on College Hill use them quite a bit.

The current budget shortfall backs out the $2.7 Million they got from the gas tax last year, so if they were to keep that, the shortfall is around $5.3 Million this year. However gas tax revenues have dropped. Fuel prices for RIPTA have gone up. Their fleet is running on duct tape, maintainence is a huge expense. They due a piss poor job with fare-collection. Also, I'm very curious about how much RIPTA paid for it's shiny new highspeed Providence-Newport ferry. I know they got a big chunk from the feds for it, but there must have been some costs to RIPTA.

RIPTA needs a huge injection of cash to upgrade it's fleet. The trolleys run on CNG so some quality new CNG buses would be great for the system. I read they just got some money to do a feasibility study of moving to a NYC MetroCard style fare-collection system which I think would dramatically improve their fare-collection. There are also plans on the table to extend commuter rail from Prov. to TF Green Airport and Quonset Point. Obviously the T's not paying for that, and there is a question if the T would even run trains that far south, RIPTA may be having to get into the rail business soon. They also just need to run more buses. Some people who might use it don't because you may be waiting a couple hours for your return trip. You can't really do your grocery shopping then wait 45 minutes to an hour for the bus. There are also no school buses in Providence, all students use RIPTA, not only does that transfer costs to RIPTA, the mass of students in the morning turns off some commuters who may have considered riding the bus.

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SO I get RIPTA's Destinations email newsletter. This is what they had to say about the possible service cuts.

RIPTA at the Crossroads

By now you

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No drastic cuts in RIPTA service, Carcieri promises

The governor tells agency officials that he supports mass transit, and any budget cuts will be small.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer

Thursday, November 13, 2003

PROVIDENCE -- Governor Carcieri has decided against massive cuts in bus service to balance the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority budget, a spokesman said yesterday after the governor met with top RIPTA officials.

"We are not going to bridge the budget gap through wholesale cutbacks in service," said Jeff Neal, the governor's press secretary, although he kept open the possibility of smaller cuts in service.

"Small, tailored reductions are still certainly possible," Neal said.

Alfred E. Moscola, RIPTA's general manager and part of the group that met with the governor, called yesterday's session "a great meeting" and "the best meeting you ever could have with the governor" because Carcieri showed a sincere and detailed interest in RIPTA's operations and future.

He said he expects more meetings, and said he expects that, "We're going to figure this problem out together."

It was the first direct indication of Carcieri's intentions in the face of a major budget crisis at RIPTA, whose proposed $68-million budget for next fiscal year would run a deficit estimated at about $8 million as things stand now.

Although the agency is also running a deficit this fiscal year, the budget being discussed is for the fiscal year that begins next July 1. The governor will submit it to the General Assembly early next year as part of his overall state budget proposal.

Descriptions of Carcieri's approach at the meeting yesterday appeared to differ substantially from the direction taken so far by Carcieri's appointment to the RIPTA board of directors, chairman Robert D. Batting, who has pressed for a plan to balance the budget with existing revenues.

A staff plan to do that through service cutbacks, made public Oct. 20, attracted a barrage of criticism from some RIPTA board members, environmental advocates, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline and House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, D-Providence.

That offered the possibility of a fight between the Republican governor and the Democrats who control both houses of the legislature, and who have showed their willingness to override the governor's veto and impose their own spending plans.

Yesterday's meeting did not settle the key long-term issues behind the RIPTA budget crisis: what Rhode Island's mass transit system should do, and how the state should pay for it.

As things stand now, the available revenue from the state and federal governments and RIPTA's own fare box, is falling farther and farther behind the cost of running the bus system.

Moscola and Neal both said yesterday's meeting was only a first step.

"Governor Carcieri understands that this is a problem that will take a multifaceted solution," Neal said. He said the governor hoped yesterday "to take a first serious look at it," and that, "his purpose was to gather data about RIPTA's financial status."

But even without any clear solutions, the governor's approach left Moscola pleased. "We spent two hours with him," twice the amount of time scheduled, Moscola said. "He is very concerned. He certainly is an advocate of mass transit."

The plan on the table to cut the RIPTA budget to match expected revenue would eliminate service on holidays and on Saturday and Sunday after 7 p.m., and also weekday service after 9 p.m.

It would wipe out summer service from the central cities to the beaches, end trolley service in Providence, and cut service on a number of routes with few riders, which have not yet been publicly identified.

The cutbacks would also force staff cuts, officials have said, their size not yet specified.

Meanwhile, while RIPTA enjoys good relations with its heavily unionized work force, all three of its employee contracts have expired, with no provision yet for raises for its 800 workers.

From The Providence Journal

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Fiscal crunch time for RIPTA

The agency considers cutting jobs and bus routes as a way to erase a $1.75-million deficit.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | Tuesday, July 27, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- For the second year in a row, the state's transit agency is facing layoffs and service cuts to address a budget deficit, officials said yesterday.

The board of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority voted yesterday to approve a $74-million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, and also voted to hold public hearings on a variety of ways to cover an estimated $1.75-million deficit.

Cost-cutting steps under consideration include:

The elimination of up to 24 routes or sections of routes, which would leave four communities -- Scituate, Foster, Glocester and Burrillville -- without bus service.

Elimination of the popular trolley service in Providence and Newport, and using the trolleys to cover routes elsewhere in the RIPTA system.

Elimination of up to 45 jobs at RIPTA. Mark Therrien, RIPTA's assistant general manager for development and planning, said the cuts could mean about 35 layoffs and 10 additional jobs eliminated when employees retire.

"I see a lot of the elderly being hurt, and the handicapped," said board member William Kennedy.

"We don't want to cut any service," said General Manager Alfred J. Moscola. "The people depend on it."

Last month, the board tabled a smaller, $72.6-million proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 after a dispute with another agency, the Department of Elderly Affairs, threw a major revenue source into doubt. Since then, changes in estimates of revenues and expenses for this fiscal year have increased the expected deficit.

RIPTA finance officials attributed the problem to several factors.

By RIPTA's reckoning, the Department of Elderly Affairs owes the agency $686,000 for servicing vehicles that transport the elderly over the past year. The Department of Elderly Affairs, however, disputes RIPTA's figures and wants RIPTA to use some of its federal reimbursements to make up the difference, something RIPTA officials yesterday rejected.

Officials also said that the agency's suppliers had expected that diesel fuel costs, a major budget item, might fall back to about $1.14 per gallon after a sharp increase. Instead, Maureen Neira, RIPTA's chief financial officer, said that prices have stayed up at about $1.41.

She said RIPTA is also facing cost increases for health insurance for its employees and for salaries and pension costs because of an impending labor arbitration decision and also for increased costs to serve disabled persons living near bus routes.

Neira said fuel will probably cost an extra $400,000, service for the disabled an extra $400,000 to $500,000, and wages and benefits perhaps $900,000 extra.

More broadly, RIPTA staff and board members said the situation reflects a failure by the state's political leaders to decide what RIPTA should do and then provide the money to pay for it. As it stands now, RIPTA provides subsidized bus service to several constituencies -- the elderly and handicapped, people going to work, students going to school and college, and those going to the beaches in the summer, among others.

RIPTA is also a major part of the state's strategies to reduce both a serious air pollution problem and growing highway congestion.

But recently, it has been limping from crisis to crisis, kept afloat by last-minute infusions of state money.

Robert Batting, Governor Carcieri's appointment to the RIPTA board, yesterday criticized the agency's managers and other board members, saying that "to just keep spending money with a deficit, that doesn't make much sense."

Batting, who has pushed unsuccessfully for spending cuts since his appointment early last year, yesterday called the changes in RIPTA's fiscal projections "staggering." He also said, "We should have significant increases in ridership and the reverse is happening."

Therrien disputed that, saying, "You keep saying our ridership is down," when "our ridership is up significantly." Therrien said that cash-paying ridership is down, because the agency has pursued contracts where several colleges pay, in advance, for their students to ride RIPTA buses using their student IDs.

Moscola's monthly report said RIPTA had a total ridership for the 11 months ending in May of 18.5 million, up 8.5 percent from 17 million the year before.

From The Providence Journal

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Deficit forces RIPTA to plan service cuts

The transit agency will offer two proposal to the public but both would call for the elimination of the Providence trolley service.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | Thursday, August 12, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Again faced with a budget deficit, the state's public transit agency will put before the public a sweeping series of budget cuts that include eliminating trolley service in Providence and leaving four communities and many elderly persons with no bus service.

The plan includes eliminating all service on 8 of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's 60 routes, and some service on another 10 routes.

The cutbacks would also mark a symbolic turning point: RIPTA would no longer be able to claim that it provides statewide bus service.

Exactly what would be cut isn't clear yet. The proposals going before a series of public hearings next month would save $4 million, more than twice the projected $1.7-million deficit. "Our board wanted to hear what the public had to say" before deciding what to cut, said Mark Therrien, RIPTA's planning director. That decision is expected late next month.

Because the service cuts would not take effect until Jan. 8, when the fiscal year is already half over, they would be more severe, according to RIPTA officials. To save one dollar for the entire fiscal year, two dollars' worth of service would have to be cut from the remaining half of the budget.

There are several reasons for the delay. By law, RIPTA must hold public hearings before it can cut service. After the board decides which services would continue, the agency must conduct complex rescheduling.

The drivers would then choose their routes by seniority. Therrien said the union "choose-up" would take place Jan. 8, with the assignments effective immediately.

RIPTA officials blame the deficit on several factors:

Sharp, unexpected increases in diesel fuel cost.

Increases in employee health insurance.

Increases in employees' salaries.

Increased costs for service to disabled persons living near bus routes.

Maureen Neira, RIPTA's chief financial officer, has estimated that fuel will probably cost an extra $400,000, service for the disabled an extra $400,000 to $500,000, and wages and benefits perhaps $900,000 extra.

RIPTA was in a similar situation a year ago when it faced a much larger, $8-million deficit. That problem was dealt with much earlier in the fiscal cycle, when, in November 2003, Governor Carcieri promised to provide enough money to avoid wholesale cuts.

That was seven months before fiscal 2005, and also well before the General Assembly session that adopted the state budget.

This time, RIPTA's much smaller budgetary crisis is unresolved much later in the fiscal cycle, with the state budget already adopted, the fiscal year already begun, and no obvious help at hand. With respect to the governor's infusion of money last year, Karen Mensel, RIPTA's director of marketing and communications, said, "I know of no such commitment this year, so far."

Making things worse this year is a continuing dispute between RIPTA and the state Department of Elderly Affairs, with RIPTA saying the DEA owes it $678,000 for transporting elderly persons and the DEA resisting. That has left RIPTA borrowing money to pay its bills.

The most obvious of the cutbacks would be the elimination of the Providence trolley service, provided by the small green buses that circulate around downtown, the South Side, the East Side and Atwells Avenue. With an operating cost of $1.6 million, they would be the biggest item to be cut.

The trolley routes largely cover the same ground as RIPTA's familiar, 40-foot buses, so they're on the cut list even though they're popular and convenient for people, particularly visitors, who want to get around downtown Providence.

As with most service cuts, the savings from cutting the trolleys would not equal the cost, Therrien said, because RIPTA would still have to pay expenses such as unemployment compensation and health insurance for a time to those workers who are laid off.

The trolleys themselves would be shifted to regular bus routes needing only a smaller bus.

The RIPTA staff offered its board members two approaches to cutting service, both of them based on characteristics of existing routes.

One evaluated the "productivity" of the bus routes, including the number of passengers per trip and per hour of operation and the fares collected.

That approach would remove 24 less-productive segments of various routes, affecting an annual ridership of more than 440,000. (That counts individual, one-way trips. By that measure, one person taking the bus to and from work 300 times per year would have made 600 trips.) Therrien estimated that would mean cutting about 4 percent of RIPTA's ridership.

The other approach was based on eliminating duplicate service and retaining weekday trips to work while maintaining the statewide system. That approach would also eliminate the Providence trolley service and eliminate all holiday service and weekend service after 7 p.m.

Therrien recommended that the board put forward more service cuts than would be needed to balance the budget, so that the board will be able to make choices afterward based on the testimony.

"You are going to hear some ugly stories" about the impact of the possible cuts, Therrien warned the board members last month. The board decided to put the results of both approaches before the public.

Therrien said that using those two reasoned approaches could still have dramatic, negative effects on bus riders and on the system.

For example, Therrien said, "We would be abandoning four communities," Scituate, Foster, Glocester and Burrillville. He said it would be the first time since RIPTA took over the routes from the ABC Bus Co. in 1979 that the towns would be without transit service.

"This would be the first time we've not had a statewide transit system" since then, he said.

Therrien also said he is troubled by some of the effects of the possible service cuts, such as routes that are not "productive" but are essential to the few riders who use them.

For example, he pointed to RIPTA's Route 24, called the Pawtuxet Valley Loop, which serves parts of Coventry, West Warwick, Warwick and Cranston on Thursdays only.

That route connects several high-rise apartment buildings for the elderly with Kent Hospital, the Warwick and Rhode Island malls and other retail areas, grocery stores and a senior center.

"There's no place for them to walk to" from their apartments, Therrien said, so for elderly persons living in those apartment buildings who don't drive, the weekly bus is the only chance for them to get out.

Hearings will address proposed service cuts

RIPTA will hold public hearings throughout the state beginning Friday, Sept. 3, to address pending cuts in service as part of its plan to reduce its 2005 budget deficit. The pending service reductions are as follows:

Elimination of the following routes, route segments and service:

Route 3 -- Warwick Avenue, Saturday service; Route 8, Jefferson Boulevard, all service; Route 9, Pascoag/Wallum Lake, all service; Route 10, North Scituate, all service; Route 12, airport/East Greenwich, Saturday service; Route 20, Elmwood, Saturday service; Route 24, Pawtuxet Valley loop, all service; and Route 29, Kent County, all service.

Also, Route 30, Arlington/Oaklawn, Sunday service; Route 32, West Barrington, all service; Route 40, Butler/Elmgrove, Saturday service; Route 52, Branch Avenue, all service; Route 53, Smithfield Avenue, Saturday service; Route 64, Newport/URI, all service (includes Newport/Quonset); Route 76, Central Avenue, weekday service; Route 86, North Main Street, Saturday service; Route 88, Albion/Manville, Saturday service; and Route 94, Fairmount, Saturday service.

Also, Providence LINK Trolley routes (green line and gold line); all holiday bus service; and all weekend bus service after 7 p.m.

Public hearings on the plan have been scheduled on the following dates at these locations:

Friday, Sept. 3, Narragansett Town Hall, Assembly Room, 25 Fifth Ave., Narragansett, noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 7, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, auditorium, 30 Exchange Terrace, Providence, noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 8, Warwick City Hall Council Chambers, 3275 Post Rd., Warwick, noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 8, Barrington Public Library, auditorium, 281 County Rd., Barrington, noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 9, Newport City Hall Council Chambers, 43 Broadway, Newport, noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

A 72-hour notice is required for persons with sensory impairment requiring auxiliary aids. To request this service, please contact the RIPTA ADA coordinator at (401) 784-9553 (TDD) or (800) 745-5555 (RI Relay TDD).

For information on RIPTA services, call (401) 781-9400 or visit ripta.com.

From The Providence Journal

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Planned RIPTA cutbacks decried

In the first of a series of public hearings on the bus service reductions, speakers say the moves will isolate them and wreck their lives.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | Wednesday, September 8, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Transit service cuts now on the table will trap the elderly in their apartments, keep the working poor from getting to their jobs, tear apart the lives of blind and other disabled persons and undermine programs to move people from welfare to work, speakers said at hearings yesterday.

People who said they depend on bus service and groups working for the poor, disabled and elderly, crowded hearing rooms at the Chamber of Commerce yesterday to object to cuts the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is considering to cover a $1.9-million budget deficit.

What's needed, many said, is more transit service, not less.

At the afternoon hearing, the audience filled the hearing room seats, filled extra seats brought into the room, and then overflowed to fill another room nearby. The evening hearing attracted fewer people.

Some urged others in the audience to call Governor Carcieri and their state legislators in RIPTA's support.

"Some of you may think it's important enough to call every day," said Richard Bidwell, of the Gray Panthers. He told callers to "be pleasant, and be direct."

But some criticized RIPTA for cutting their routes intead of others, and several criticized the agency for, as one put it, buying new SUVs for their supervisors "and then crying poormouth."

RIPTA is holding a series of hearings on the cuts they may make in January to close the deficit for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The deficit is caused by RIPTA's revenues from the state and other sources falling behind cost increases, particularly for fuel and labor, official say.

General Manager Alfred J. Moscola said cutting service is the last thing he wants to do, but that the agency has no choice.

Moscola said that both Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly "have been excellent to us. They believe in mass transit."

But with federal aid declining, the governor and legislature are where money would apparently have to come from. A RIPTA manager said yesterday there has been no sign of aid from Carcieri.

Lori Morris, executive director of Goodwill Industries on Branch Avenue, said her agency supplies job training for the disabled, welfare recipients and the unemployed to "help them become tax-paying citizens."

But those clients, she said, depend heavily on bus service. Without it, "A large fraction of our clients will not have access to our services," she said.

Morris said that 70 percent of Rhode Islanders with disabilities are unemployed, and that if the state cuts bus service, that number will go up.

Several blind or nearly blind people described how losing bus service would undermine their independence or substantially wreck their lives.

Fredericka Jay, of Pawtucket, said she has spent 30 months adjusting to the loss of most of her vision. She said the RIPTA cuts would undo much of her work by keeping her from the computer training she hopes will let her work again, from using the airport on Saturday, and from grocery shopping and visiting her doctor.

Carolyn Dorazio, office manager at a downtown Providence law firm, said that when she hires workers, potential employees want to know about transportation. She can't offer parking, so reducing bus service puts her at a hiring disadvantage.

Salvatore Lombardi, of Scituate, said he didn't need mass transit himself, but he discovered that a lot of people do when he decided to run for public office and started to knock on doors. "This is a need. You cannot take this service away from them," he said.

"Transit service doesn't just benefit the people who desperately need it," said Barry Schiller, a Sierra Club member. "It's also a benefit for the rest of the population even if they never use the bus," he said, because it reduces pollution and traffic congestion.

Schiller said the state government says the right things about mass transit and the environment but then doesn't follow up with action. For example, he said, the state maintains parking facilities "at great expense, but they do nothing to encourage car pool use" among state employees.

Several legislators attended the hearings, some saying they will try to help RIPTA at the State House.

"Having a viable mass transit system is an asset that this state cannot afford to lose," said state Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence.

John DeLuca, director of the DaVinci Center in Providence, said cutting a Branch Avenue bus line would cause "a gross negative effect on the public." The elderly depend on bus service for grocery shopping and getting to church, he said. The DaVinci Center, on Charles Street, provides programs for the elderly, as well as education and literacy programs, employment services and counseling for youths and families.

"We're really cutting off their lifeline to basic services and basic needs," DeLuca said.

He said the center has job developers finding work for poor persons trying to get off welfare, but "they depend totally on the bus service" to get around. "We find the bus is totally essential."

A group of women from a town in the northwest part of the state that could lose all its bus service, showed up wearing T-shirts calling themselves "Outback Jacks" because the cut would leave them isolated in the "outback."

"Every time there's a budget cut, you pick on the northwest side of the state," said Diane Patry, who lives in Glocester. "We need a ride to work. We can't afford to park in Providence."

From The Providence Journal

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RIPTA cuts draw ire of business

By Marion Davis, Staff Writer | 09/11/2004

RIPTA bus No. 9, from Providence to Pascoag, serves Mineral Spring Avenue, the Apple Valley Mall, Smithfield Crossings and, at its end point, Zambarano Hospital.

Bus No. 52, the Branch Avenue line, will get you from downtown to Goodwill Industries, the Home Depot on Branch Avenue, and Bryant University.

Bus No. 8 is the sole route serving Warwick

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Governor questions need for RIPTA to cut back on service

The agency's chairman rejects charges that planned management pay increases are excessive.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Governor Carcieri yesterday accused the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority of planning to cut bus service to hundreds of poor, handicapped and elderly people while giving its own management $1.2 million in salary increases.

That's enough money to make up most of RIPTA's projected $1.7-million budget deficit, which is the basis for the controversial bus service cuts that would take effect in January.

But RIPTA's board chairman, Sen. Daniel P. Connors of Cumberland, said yesterday that Carcieri's assertion was "complete hogwash" based on misunderstanding of the budget, and that Carcieri is trying to use RIPTA's ongoing financial crisis for political gain.

The governor also indicated how he may address RIPTA's financial troubles, saying he was "not yet" convinced that RIPTA needs any more money this fiscal year.

Carcieri said he will meet with RIPTA officials today to talk about the budget. The RIPTA board is scheduled to vote Monday on the service cuts.

Handicapped, elderly and poor people, and their advocates, testified at hearings early this month that the service cuts would damage their lives, cutting them off from medical and other care, and from shopping, school, friends and family.

Although the governor based his criticism on figures that have been available since July, Carcieri and RIPTA have dramatically different understandings of what the numbers mean.

In a press release yesterday, Carcieri questioned whether the service cuts are necessary and accused RIPTA's board of cutting service while planning an 18-percent increase in "management salaries." The governor said that instead of cutting service, RIPTA could cover most of the deficit by "freezing management wages" and saving the $1.2 million.

Connors said, however, that the RIPTA budget actually includes only $50,000 in raises for the authority's 26 managers, or raises of about 2.5 percent. He said it would be the managers' first raise since July 2002.

The vast majority of the $1.2 million Carcieri was referring to, Connors said, is not for raises for managers, but rather for other expenses including unionized employees, family medical leaves, military leaves, and to fill jobs that are vacant.

Connors is a Democratic legislator, and Carcieri a Republican who is working hard to add to the tiny Republican minority in the General Assembly. The Republicans quickly converted RIPTA's budget troubles into a campaign issue.

Republican John F. Gormly, who is running against Connors for Senate, is one of the candidates Carcieri is supporting in the November election. He issued a statement blaming Connors' "inexperience and lack of leadership" for the RIPTA budget deficit and the likelihood of service cuts and job losses at the agency.

RIPTA officials have consistently blamed the agency's financial troubles on dramatic increases in costs that it cannot control, particularly diesel fuel, insurance and union wages.

State Budget Officer Rosemary Booth Gallogly said yesterday that the $1.2-million figure that the governor used to attack RIPTA was calculated from a pair of figures in a budget summary RIPTA released in July.

The section was titled, "Wages: Management, clerical support," and the document projected an increase from $6.7 million last fiscal year to $7.9 million this year. The difference is the $1.2 million Carcieri's statement referenced, Gallogly said. However, Carcieri and Gormly translated "Management, clerical support" into "management wage" increases and "executive salaries," respectively.

That's the assumption Connors said isn't valid, because that section of the budget includes numerous expenses other than actual pay raises for RIPTA managers. Carcieri, Connors said, "doesn't understand the budget."

RIPTA officials had been encouraged after getting positive reviews of the agency's bus service from many of those testifying at the hearings, who often said they needed more service, not less.

But the governor's accusations yesterday, accompanied by their impression that he has no sympathy for what the transit officials consider a grave and growing fiscal crisis, threw the RIPTA staff into a defensive posture. Questions about the "management salary increases" the governor was objecting to were referred to RIPTA's public relations office, where an official said she could not comment.

From The Providence Journal

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RIPTA puts cuts in neutral, delays vote on changes

"Your bus routes are safe," says Daniel P. Connors, board chairman, suggesting the possibility that the General Assembly will appropriate more money in January.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | September 28, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board yesterday put off a decision on cutting bus service to allow time to try to work out its budget troubles with Governor Carcieri.

"Your bus routes are safe now," said the board chairman, Daniel P. Connors. "I don't think there'll be any cuts" before the General Assembly has a chance in January to appropriate extra money for RIPTA, which is predicting a $1.9-million deficit.

The governor is pressing the authority to find the money elsewhere in its $74-million budget, covering the deficit without cutting bus services. In fact, Carcieri apparently intends to find it himself: RIPTA officials said they are continuing to gather financial information at the governor's request.

A Carcieri administration board member, Transportation Director James R. Capaldi, meanwhile, yesterday called the idea of cutting RIPTA service "crazy."

"We need RIPTA badly," Capaldi said, because of growing traffic congestion. "It's crazy to cut. We have to add to these services. Congestion's going to cause us major problems."

Connors, a Democratic state senator representing Cumberland and Lincoln, said the authority is thinking about decreasing the frequency of bus service rather than eliminating routes or service on weekends or holidays to balance the budget.

He said the board may also review its fare structure, perhaps replacing its flat, $1.25 fare with a zone system where a longer ride would cost more.

The authority says it expects a $1.9-million budget deficit this fiscal year, something it must eliminate by the end of the year next June 30 either by getting more revenue or cutting service.

Repeating a dispute from last week, Connors also accused the governor of employing "an outright lie" in attacking the authority last Tuesday, when the governor accused RIPTA of budgeting "a planned $1.2-million increase in management salaries." That made it sound as though RIPTA was giving its managers big raises while cutting off bus service to the old and handicapped, something RIPTA officials said wasn't true and was never intended.

Jeff Neal, Carcieri's press secretary, retorted last night that the governor was correct in that the $1.2-million figure reflected "increased funding to pay personnel costs."

Public officials are increasingly rallying against the service cutbacks, with many suggesting something that Carcieri has not accepted: that RIPTA needs more money, and that transit service ought to increase, if anything, not shrink.

"Deep cutbacks in service would adversely affect the most vulnerable segments of our state's population," Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee said in a letter that Connors read aloud yesterday.

Chafee repeated something that many have testified to at a series of hearings RIPTA held earlier this month: if the cuts go through, "thousands of Rhode Islanders could lose their economic independence."

Many disabled people, including the blind, hold down jobs, but testified at the hearings that they can't get to them without bus service. No bus service, they said, equals not just unemployment, but being trapped at home and the end of their independence.

Lt. Gov. Charles J. Fogarty wrote to protest cuts that would eliminate service to towns in the northwest corner of the state, and to object to another likely cut, the trolleys that RIPTA runs in Providence. He said the trolley system "has played an integral role in Providence's renaissance."

Several legislators went to yesterday's meeting, and state Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed, the majority leader of the state Senate, and Rep. Paul Crowley, both Democrats representing Newport, wrote to oppose the cuts, saying they would undermine tourism, damage the environment, cut college students off from classes and disproportionately injure the elderly and disabled.

About 50 people attended the meeting, which the authority moved from its office across Melrose Street to a Narragansett Electric Co. cafeteria to get more room. Elderly and disabled people, and some of the health-care and other organizations that serve them, described the critical role public transit plays in the lives of those who can't drive themselves around.

"Thousands of people go to Kennedy Plaza, waiting for the RIPTA buses, and I'm one of them," said Marjorie Rogers, who lives in a high-rise for the elderly on Atwells Avenue. "It's going to strand people. They're going to have to stay home. How are we going to get around?"

Ken Terrell, head of a Massachusetts transit group, said, "eliminating entire towns from transit service is almost unheard of." Terrell chairs the Massachusetts Association of Transit System Users, based in Boston.

The cuts before the RIPTA board include eliminating trolley service in Providence and leaving four communities, Scituate, Foster, Glocester and Burrillville -- along with many elderly and handicapped people -- with no bus service.

The RIPTA staff reported on the 13 public hearings it held across the state on the possible cuts. A total of 701 people attended and 666 people made either spoken or written comments.

The vast majority of them, said Assistant General Manager Mark Therrien, opposed the service reductions, particularly the ones that affected the person speaking, and supported more service, not less. He said RIPTA itself came out well: only a tiny handful, 16, criticized RIPTA's management.

"I've done this 18 times in 25 years," Therrien said, "and this is the most positive commenting I've heard" from the public at similar hearings.

Stephen Farrell, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618, RIPTA's largest union, opposed any service cuts, both because of the resulting loss of jobs and because of their effect on the riding public.

Farrell noted a study by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a private research group, which cited a lack of central planning in the state's transportation system, and predicted cumulative deficits that could total $1.8 billion because of the lack of adequate funding for the bus system.

From The Providence Journal

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Board approves increases in bus fares

The deficit-reduction plan would also eliminate vacant jobs, but avoid service cutbacks.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | November 18, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board yesterday approved a package of measures, including fare increases, to close the $1.9-million budget gap that once threatened to force substantial service cutbacks.

But the action only puts off the state bus system's financial crisis, which has developed as RIPTA's expenses outstripped its revenues. At the same meeting, the board approved a budget containing a much larger, $9.7-million deficit for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The measures to cover this fiscal year's deficit avoid the service cuts and rely in part on fare increases, but most of the money would come in the form of increased payments from another state agency and through the elimination of vacant jobs at RIPTA.

The fare hike would raise RIPTA's basic, one-way fare from $1.25 to $1.50, along with these other changes:

Trolley (LINK) fares would rise from $1 to $1.50.

The RIde fare, for disabled persons who cannot use regular bus service, would increase from $2.50 to $3.

The short zone fare would increase from 50 cents to $1.50.

Senior/disabled off-peak fares would rise from 60 to 75 cents.

Ten RIPTIKS would rise from $11.25 to $13.50.

Ten Providence High School tokens would increase from $10.60 to $12.75.

However, General Manager Alfred J. Moscola's recommendation included no change in the $45 cost of a monthly pass. He noted that if someone takes two trips each day for 20 days a month under the higher fare, the single-fare cost would be $60, more than enough to make the monthly pass attractive.

The fare hikes would be effective Feb 1. The board must first hold public hearings, which it scheduled from Dec. 20-23.

Officials said yesterday that they expect the hike in the base fare to produce $183,415 in additional revenue through the end of the fiscal year. That is a modest amount compared with other parts of the package Moscola and Maureen Neira, RIPTA's chief financial officer, presented yesterday.

The biggest source of new revenue would be another state agency, the Department of Human Services, which reimburses RIPTA for bus passes for people enrolled in the department's RIte Care/RIte Share health insurance programs. Neira said that while DHS had estimated that RIPTA would issue 20,000 passes a month, the number turned out to be about 4,300 more. The added reimbursement would give RIPTA an extra $1.1 million.

The package also includes a 2.5-percent raise for nonunion employees, matching what unionized employees secured in contract arbitration. Nonunion employees making more than $35,000 per year, however, will also make 5-percent copays on their medical insurance, although that would only save the agency an estimated $6,050 over the seven months starting in December.

"What really helped us solve our problem was the additional RIteCare passes," Moscola said.

Neira said RIPTA will also save $603,000, the other large item, by eliminating vacant positions, an item Governor Carcieri had focused on.

Yesterday's action followed a period of jousting between the majority of the board members and Carcieri, with the board seeking more state money and Carcieri insisting that it wasn't needed and that RIPTA could balance its budget by cutting existing spending plans.

RIPTA predicted it would lose 107,069 riders on its regular buses and trolleys because of the fare hikes. RIPTA's annual ridership is more than 20 million trips.

The planned service cuts brought hundreds of poor, elderly and disabled riders out to a series of public hearings in September to plead for, or demand, no cutbacks.

Those who can't drive because of disability, age or lack of money described how their lives are carefully built around RIPTA's bus service, and how those complicated arrangements would be ripped apart if the cuts went through. Some officials from social service agencies catering to the disadvantaged and disabled similarly described how they would be cut off from their clients.

In fact, Moscola pointed out yesterday, many of those who attended the hearings said that a fare increase was preferable to losing bus service.

Moscola also said a major factor contributing to the budget deficit, sharply higher diesel fuel costs, has moderated somewhat.

RIPTA budgeted $1.41 per gallon for fuel this fiscal year, and although the year started July 1 with the price slightly below that, world oil prices quickly rocketed upward. By mid-September, RIPTA's cost passed $1.70 per gallon, and it topped out at slightly more than $2 per gallon in October.

Recently, Moscola's figures showed, RIPTA's cost has dropped to roughly $1.77 per gallon, still well above the budgeted figure.

RIPTA hearings

RIPTA's public hearings on proposed fare increases will be held in Warwick, Providence, Barrington, Narragansett and Newport, according to the following schedule:

Monday, Dec. 20: Newport Public Library, large meeting room, 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 21: University of Rhode Island, Feinstein Providence Campus, auditorium, 80 Washington St., 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 22: Warwick City Hall, council chambers, 3275 Post Rd., 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

Narragansett Town Hall, assembly room, 25 Fifth Ave., 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 23: Barrington Public Library, second-floor auditorium, 281 County Rd., 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

From The Providence Journal

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Critics say fare hike could drain RIPTA

A member of an environmental group says the state should be trying to encourage public transit, not making it more expensive.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | December 22, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- Speakers at a hearing yesterday criticized a planned fare increase for the state's bus system, saying it will only undermine the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's ridership while failing to solve its financial problems.

Barry Schiller, a Sierra Club member and former RIPTA board member, said the fare increase could push the state transit system into "a downward spiral" where transit ridership will fall off, prompting service cuts followed by more ridership declines.

He said that would only lead to more traffic congestion and more air pollution. The state should be "making transit more attractive, not less attractive," he said.

Another effect of the fare increase, he said, would be to "stick it to the low-income people."

Russell Gifford, representing the Gray Panthers, a group that advocates for the elderly, agreed. "The fare increase is going to hurt the working poor people," he said.

Schiller told RIPTA officials that he wasn't criticizing them, since the suggestion for the fare increase came from Governor Carcieri.

Schiller, among others testifying, said RIPTA should go back to a zoned fare system, where those riding farther pay more.

Mark Therrien, RIPTA's head of planning, said the agency's estimates suggest that a zoned system "doesn't really generate much money," because so few bus runs would be affected.

RIPTA eliminated a four-zone system in 1998, replacing fares ranging from $1 to $3 with the $1.25 single-trip rate in effect now. The cost of a monthly pass, which would not increase under the fare-increase plan, reached its present $45 in July 2003.

Greg Gerritt, of Providence, spoke against the fare increase, saying that the last time RIPTA raised its fares, it actually lost money because ridership dropped.

Therrien agreed, saying that's what happened in 2001. This time, however, he said RIPTA is expecting a net gain in revenue.

RIPTA has estimated that increasing its basic fare to $1.50 would raise $148,000 from February through June, and $440,000 in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

That makes the fare increase only a minor part of RIPTA's plan to close a $1.9-million budget deficit this fiscal year. The biggest source of new revenue would be the Department of Human Services, which would pass on $1.1 million in federal reimbursements under its RIte Care program.

RIPTA would save another $600,000 by not filling vacant jobs.

Schiller also had several suggestions for making RIPTA cheaper to operate. In general, he said, all RIPTA riders except the very poor should pay something to ride, and those who can afford to pay for subsidized service should pay.

He also suggested that the system shut down entirely on Christmas Day, because so few people ride then.

Assuming the RIPTA board approves them, the fare increases would go into effect Feb. 1.

The hearings continue today at Warwick City Hall and Narragansett Town Hall, and tomorrow at the Barrington Public Library.

The hearing yesterday, at the University of Rhode Island Providence campus, attracted a few dozen people, of whom only a handful testified.

Along with the increase in the basic fare, RIPTA plans these other changes:

Providence trolley fares would rise from $1 to $1.50.

The RIde fare, for disabled people who cannot use regular bus service, would increase from $2.50 to $3.

The 50-cent Providence "short zone" fare, within the downtown, would increase to $1.50.

Senior/disabled off-peak fares would rise from 60 cents to 75 cents.

The price of 10 RIPTIKS would rise from $11.25 to $13.50.

The price of 10 Providence High School tokens would increase from $10.60 to $12.75.

From The Providence Journal

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LOCAL MOTION

Transit advocates form coalition to fight RIPTA cuts

BY BRIAN C. JONES | January 21 - 27, 2005

In a variation of the old saw that war is too important to be left to the generals, a new coalition believes the future of the RIPTA bus system is too crucial to be entrusted just to state government. Calling itself the Rhode Island Transit Collaborative, the group formed last October after a series of potentially destructive service cuts was proposed to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority route system.

After RIPTA proposed a fare hike in December, the collaborative argued that price increases are self-defeating since they drive off customers, many of whom use public transit because they are low on cash. The proposed service cuts (see "Downsizing RIPTA," News, August 27, 2004) never went through after a public uproar at hearings, the involvement of Governor Donald L. Carcieri, and some last minute fiddling with the budget. The RIPTA board is scheduled to meet January 24 to consider testimony from last year

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RIPTA to receive $4M in fed funds

01/29/2005

The U.S. Department of Transportation is sending the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority $4,271,844 that U.S. Sen. Jack Reed secured for new buses and security improvement in the fiscal year 2004 omnibus appropriation bill.

RIPTA will use $3,883,494 for the procurement of 17 new vehicles including 11 40-foot buses for routes in urban areas and six 30-foot "Flex" vehicles to provide service in less densely populated communities, a press release from the senator

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RIPTA suggests cutting 53 routes

Without additional financing and service reductions, RIPTA officials estimate the budget deficit at $5.2 million for the coming fiscal year.

BY BRUCE LANDIS Journal Staff Writer | March 15, 2005

Read the story at ProJo.com.

The plan includes cutting routes, reducing the Providence Link Trolleys from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes (making them useless), and other bone headed "cost-saving" schemes. :rolleyes:

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Providence Journal

RIPTA gets another penny of the state's gas tax to combine with cost saving measures and close this year's deficit.

The General Assembly wants RIPTA to do two studies. One to determine why people don't utilize the service (uhm, let's see, could it be... the Kennedy Plaza Homeless Shelter and Drug Rehab Centre?). The other study will weigh putting RIPTA directly under the Dept. of Transportation and dissolving it's board (which has to be changed anyway due to the Seperation of Powers).

Here's an idea... The BLB Lincoln Park deal means that the state can now faze out the car tax. Instead of fazing it out, how about reducing it slightly, and diverting the remaining funds to RIPTA?

Also, the sales tax is due for a roll back (it was originally raised to help the state out of the savings and loan crisis). Drop the sales tax 1% and send another 1% to RIPTA.

Of course, if we were to send more money RIPTAs way, I'd like to see them have a solid plan for getting reluctant people to ride as well as a 10 year plan that included planning for light rail and/or BRT service in the metro area.

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Providence Journal

The General Assembly wants RIPTA to do two studies. One to determine why people don't utilize the service (uhm, let's see, could it be... the Kennedy Plaza Homeless Shelter and Drug Rehab Centre?). The other study will weigh putting RIPTA directly under the Dept. of Transportation and dissolving it's board (which has to be changed anyway due to the Seperation of Powers).

Of course, if we were to send more money RIPTAs way, I'd like to see them have a solid plan for getting reluctant people to ride as well as a 10 year plan that included planning for light rail and/or BRT service in the metro area.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

RIPTA under DOT would make sense and it could open up a job for me, so I'm all for it.

RIPTA's looking at BRT down Reservoir Ave to the Pastore Center.

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RIPTA's looking at BRT down Reservoir Ave to the Pastore Center.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That was my idea! I demand restitution! :lol:

Really though, where did you hear this?

RIPTA under DOT might be good. If they do want to do things like BRT, which requires dedicated lanes, and upgraded stops, it's certainly something they need to work with DOT on.

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That was my idea! I demand restitution!  :lol:

Really though, where did you hear this?

RIPTA under DOT might be good. If they do want to do things like BRT, which requires dedicated lanes, and upgraded stops, it's certainly something they need to work with DOT on.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I probly wasn't supposed to hear it, but screw it I did anyway....I was in a meeting and it got mentioned...

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You know, some days (like today), I feel like my RIPTA bus pass would be more useful to me if I rolled it up and smoked it...that and my printed bus schedule.

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Too bad it wasn't an ozone alert day. You could have smoked your pass and rode for free, well if your bus ever showed up you could have rode for free.

Luckily I walk more often than not, so I never bother with a pass.

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I think RIPTA needs to take another look at its Marketing/Advertising department...

It always seems like the exterior ad spaces on the buses are empty or contain extremely outdated materials, or RIPTA just puts something there to try and increase ridership (which I dont think is effective unless the bus is stuck in traffic on 95). 90% of the time it also seems like the bus ads are "exchanges" with non-profits, such as Providence Public Library or Trinity Rep, who would give RIPTA some sort of opportunity to increase its ridership in exchange for the ad space.

I cant really comment on the interior advertising since its been awhile since I've been inside a bus, but my memory tells me that most of the interior stuff is all RIPTA related (rules, schedule changes, etc).

SO my question is, what exactly are the highly paid marketing administrators doing? Why arent we seeing more corporate advertising on the buses? The lincoln park thing is cool, but I would rather have seen Red Bull paint a bus and offer riders a coupon for a free red bull... or something like that...

Or am I not understanding something?

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SO my question is, what exactly are the highly paid marketing administrators doing?

I looked into doing some ads for a non-profit last year (which we didn't end up doing). All the bus ads are done through an outside agency.

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