RIPTA service changes should fix issues in Providence, union rep says

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A shortage of Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) bus drivers has caused issues for Providence students who rely on the service to get to school every day.

However, the vice president of the bus drivers union tells 12 News that come Monday, parents will no longer have to worry since RIPTA is adjusting its schedule to ensure buses will come.

On Saturday, the agency will temporarily reduce service frequencies for a number of routes. No routes will be eliminated, RIPTA said, and early morning, weekend, and holiday service will not be affected.

While RIPTA regularly makes service adjustments three times a year for seasonal and ridership reasons, the agency said these changes are directly related to its struggle to hire new drivers.

Since the start of the school year, Providence students who utilize RIPTA buses have been met with sporadic delays and missed pickups.

Joe Cole, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618, said that while buses will be coming less frequently, the service changes should help close those gaps.

“Rather than waiting for a bus that’s not going to show up, they will be here,” he said Tuesday.

Cole also said RIPTA had “somewhat of a good turnout” at its last job fair as it works to hire more drivers.

Last week, Gov. Dan McKee wrote a letter to RIPTA’s board of directors criticizing the agency for how the disruptions are affecting Providence students.

“I made it very aware to them that it’s a priority to get the kids to school on a daily basis,” McKee said. “The other thing is, they’re in contract negotiations right now and I want to make sure the students and the families are not used as pawns.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus has criticized McKee for not taking action sooner, saying at the first sign of trouble she would’ve worked with RIPTA call in retired bus drivers.

“This problem should not take months to fix,” she said. “I would have a solution within 72 hours.”

Kalus also suggested activating the National Guard because they are licensed commercial drivers.

“Not only is Rhode Island failing kids in the classroom, but we can’t even get them to the classroom. It’s heartbreaking,” she added. “And after a month of kids being left in the curb, Dan McKee finally got involved. His solution to address the problem? He wrote a letter. A letter isn’t a plan, it’s having a pen pal.”

McKee said he’s also working with the R.I. Department of Education and Providence’s superintendent to develop a “plan B” in case RIPTA can’t pick up students on a given day. Kalus said that’s something that should have already been in place.

The following routes will be affected by temporary service reductions and/or fall service changes, according to RIPTA:

  • 13 Coventry/Arctic/CCRI
  • 17 Dyer/Pocasset
  • 19 Plainfield/Westminster
  • 21 Reservoir/Garden City/CCRI
  • 22 Pontiac Ave.
  • 27 Broadway/Manton
  • 28 Broadway/Hartford
  • 29 CCRI Warwick/Conimicut
  • 31 Cranston St.
  • 50 Douglas Ave./Bryant University
  • 51 Charles St./Twin River/CCRI
  • 54 Lincoln/Woonsocket
  • 55 Admiral/Providence College
  • 56 Chalkstone Ave.
  • 57 Smith Street
  • 60 Providence/Newport
  • 63 Broadway/Middletown Shops
  • 65X Wakefield Park-n-Ride
  • 67 Bellevue/Mansions/Salve
  • 72 Weeden/Central Falls
  • 87 Fairmount/Walnut Hill
  • 92 East Side/Federal Hill/RI College