Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. As General Manager of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), I welcome this opportunity to share my thoughts with you on the positive impacts of the transit provisions of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) – on our transit system in particular – and other medium-sized transit properties.
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) – one of only four statewide transit systems in the country -- has the primary responsibility for directing statewide public transit service. RIPTA is managed under the direction of a seven-member Board of Directors. Rhode Island’s statewide public transit network includes a fleet of 250 buses – 10% of which are fueled by compressed natural gas, 120 paratransit vans, commuter rail, Amtrak service, water transportation service from Providence to Newport, and a statewide carpool/commuter benefits program. In FY 2001, approximately 21 million passenger trips were carried on RIPTA’s bus and paratransit services.
As the statewide public transit organization, RIPTA is charged with the responsibility for "mobility management"; and has a primary role to expand access and mobility opportunities for Rhode Islanders by undertaking actions and supportive strategies, directly and in collaboration with others, to provide a full range of travel options to the single-occupant automobile. A copy of RIPTA’s TRANSIT 2000 Service Plan – the transit authority’s comprehensive, multi-year transit improvement plan has been included (Exhibit 1).
TEA-21 – Expanding Mobility Opportunities
RIPTA has experienced ridership growth of 31% since the mid-1990s -- thanks in large measure to increased federal investment in public transportation. Building on the framework established under ISTEA, TEA-21 has given us the additional funding, predictability of resources, and flexibility to make improvements necessary to bring our statewide transit system up to a "state of good repair"; and at the same time – make modest, but strategic investments for the future.
In the final analysis, TEA –21 has allowed us to more effectively meet the mobility needs of Rhode Island residents, our communities and visitors to the state. Increased federal transit investment and guaranteed funding levels -- have also made it possible for us to leverage local reinvestment in public transportation.
This additional local investment- coupled with your national leadership to increase public transit funding – have made it possible for our transit system to: reinvest responsibly; make significant strides in returning our statewide public transit system to a "state of good repair"; and begin implementing new, innovative services.
Bottom line, over the past several years, TEA-21 funding has allowed the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to:
Highlights of RIPTA’s TEA-21 Initiatives
The Providence LINK – Introduction of RIPTA’s First Alternative Fuel Fleet
In July 1999, with the opening of the Providence Place Mall – the largest covered urban mall in New England -- RIPTA introduced its Providence LINK downtown circulator system -- utilizing vintage-design trolleys – powered by compressed natural gas, the transit system’s first alternative fuel vehicle fleet. A circulator system that connects virtually every major downtown location – including City Hall, the State Capitol, Providence’s financial district, the new mall, major hospitals, hotels, restaurants, the local arts & entertainment district, and all of the downtown colleges and universities – the LINK carries approximately 65,000 passengers each month – and is a hit with both local residents and travelers.
Funded by a CMAQ grant, the LINK is designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.
The Providence to Newport Ferry Demonstration Project
With CMAQ funding, RIPTA launched its water ferry demonstration service in summer 2000, connecting our Ocean State’s two major destination locations – the Capitol City of Providence and the city by the sea, Newport. Providing both residents and travelers with an additional option to single occupancy vehicle use – this new service exceeded its goal of 40,000 passengers during its first year of operation. This number represents the removal of over 19,000 vehicles from heavily congested roads between Providence and Newport.
Flexible Services – "JOBS ACCESS" Funds Help Expand Mobility Opportunities
Rip’s FLEX service is a demand-response community circulation service utilizing smaller vehicles. This flex zone services combine fixed pick-up points within a designated geographical area with the added convenience and flexibility of advance reservation features. In all instances, our Flex services have been designed to "connect" with RIPTA’s fixed-route transit network and other key intermodal connections.
These new transit services offer a practical and affordable public transportation option – particularly for residents in Rhode Island’s low density rural and suburban communities that have traditionally had little or no access to conventional public transportation service – and special needs groups – like our working disabled, seniors, and working parents with childcare needs transitioning from welfare to–to-work.
Expanding RIPTA services would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of RIPTA’s largest union – the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 618. In 1998, RIPTA and ATU Local 618 were able to negotiate one of the more progressive transit contracts in the country – providing for a Flexible Services Division rate at 47% of a top bus operator’s wage rate – making it possible for RIPTA to affordably expand service.
Partially supported with Jobs Access funds, RIPTA currently has five (5) very successful flexible services in operation -- providing service to the communities of Westerly, Narragansett, Portsmouth/Tiverton, Woonsocket and West Warwick. This past year, our State’s Jobs Access-funded services were cited for their innovation and creativity -- and received one (1) of ten (10) national recognition awards from the American Public Transportation Association.
One of our Jobs Access-funded Flex services was designed in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS). This service which is open to the public – specifically targets DHS clients transitioning from welfare-to-work programs with transportation to jobs and job –related training. This specially designed service also provides transportation for their children to daycare providers. RIPTA’s Jobs Access program uses parental input to help coordinate pick up times and locations and also accommodates parents, allowing them up to 15 minutes to bring their children into daycare facilities before returning to the Flex vehicle to continue on to work. A RIPTA Mobility Specialist provides complete trip planning for each passenger. Job Access Flex is currently providing open door service in two communities Woonsocket and West Warwick. In the first year of operation, the Job access Flex transportation service has clocked over 25,000 passenger trips.
WorkLINK – New Flex Service Targets Disabled Residents Who Need
Launched in October 2001, WorkLINK is a pilot program funded by State and Jobs Access funds which targets the transportation needs of the working disabled in our State – with a priority on residents in communities with little or no access to conventional public transportation or ADA paratransit services. RIPTA partnered with the Governor’s Commission on the Disabilities, the RI Department of Labor & Training, RI Department of Mental Health, Retardation & Hospitals, RI Department of Human Services, Rhode Island Disability Law Center and other local disability advocacy organizations to develop this pilot program.
The planning work took almost a year – including an extensive statewide survey of the mobility needs of our disabled residents -- the most up-to-date factual information on the unmet work-related transportation needs of Rhode Island residents with disabilities. Once again, without Jobs Access funding, we would not have been in a position to initiate this service last year.
"A State of Good Repair" - A Necessary Investment in Equipment & Facilities
As a result of additional federal transit funding and predictability of resources, RIPTA has been able to implement a multi-year capital program to replace and upgrade its aging fleet and facilities. Since TEA-21, RIPTA has purchased 60 new buses – including 40-foot Orions manufactured in New York, NOVA 30’ and 40’ foot buses from New Mexico, and CNG trolleys from Kansas. This past week, we also began receiving delivery of five (5) 30’ CNG low floor buses. All of the buses replaced were well beyond their useful service life – some as old as 16 years. TEA-21 funding has also enabled RIPTA to implement a structured replacement cycle for its extensive statewide paratransit vehicle fleet.
Over the past several years, we have also purchased 35 new vehicles to replace old paratransit vans used for our nationally recognized statewide coordinated paratransit system – "the RIde" – which provides both "ADA-mandated" transit services for seniors and disabled residents who cannot utilize conventional public transit service. Our statewide RIde Program also provides human and social services-funded transportation services for seniors, people with disabilities and low income residents – with funding provided by the Department of Elderly Affairs, Mental Health & Retardation, the Department of Human Services, the Governors Commission on Disabilities, and local communities.
RIPTA’s First Major Bus Rehabilitation Program
Today, 1992 buses are being rehabilitated which will extend their useful life by an additional 5 years. Phase I of the project is being performed by the Blitz Corporation of Chicago, Illinois – the oldest and largest bus manufacturer in the United States. At Blitz, each of these 46 vehicles will receive new engines that meet current EPA emissions standards, new transmissions, new undercarriages, and new wheelchair lifts for improved performance.
With the recent opening of RIPTA’s newly constructed John H. Chafee Heavy Maintenance & Operations Center – which replaces RIPTA’s 100-year old central maintenance garage, Phase II of this extensive bus rehabilitation program is being performed in-house by RIPTA’s own maintenance employees – a real first and source of pride for our employees – who now have the opportunity and the resources to learn how "to fish" for themselves. This phase of the rehab includes overhaul and rebuild of the buses’ heating and air conditioning systems; installation of new brakes, tires, passenger seating; and complete interior and exterior painting.
THE KENNEDY PLAZA TRANSPORTATION CENTER – A State Landmark
This past Saturday, RIPTA opened the first phase of its Kennedy Plaza Enhancement Project – which serves as a key connection point for 80% of our statewide bus service. Located directly in the public square of downtown Providence, this historic space has been the nexus for transportation and commerce within the State and Rhode Island’s capitol city for over 125 years.
RIPTA’s modern Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) building in the redesigned Kennedy Plaza will open early this fall. The entire project has been developed with significant customer and general public input. The ITC will substantially enhance the levels of service, convenience and security available to commuters, visitors and pedestrians in downtown Providence. When completed, this state-of–the-art intermodal transportation facility will also house Greyhound, Bonanza, Amtrak’s self ticketing service, a small Police Substation, and a local arts & entertainment office.
Intelligent Transportation Systems ("ITS Demonstration Project")
The application of new technologies is a key element of the new Kennedy Plaza ITC. RIPTA’s strategy in this regard is three-fold. First, introduce relatively low-cost applications that are both visible and immediately beneficial, i.e., APCs, information kiosks, self-ticketing machines, Talking ATMs, audible lights and message signs, blinking lights and call boxes on bus stops, automated schedule information, and surveillance cameras. Second, incrementally build the appropriate system wide platform and infrastructure that facilitates phased ITS implementation – as pilot projects are refined and funding becomes available. Finally, implement the authority’s "ITS Demonstration" Project at Kennedy Plaza. Key elements of the project include onboard electronics (voice and data transmission) for the Providence LINK trolley system, GPS locator, and an onboard computer with a mobile data terminal; the ability to provide "real-time" trolley information; and "next bus" type passenger information signs at key trolley locations along the trolley routes which pass every major key location in the downtown Providence area.
The purpose of this ITS Demonstration Project is to provide RIPTA customers and the general pubic with an opportunity to personally "see" and "experience" the value and benefits to be derived from the application of intelligent transportation systems – in a small, controlled environment. It will also permit RIPTA to implement and refine these highly beneficial – and at the same time – expensive applications on a smaller scale before taking them to full system build-out.
Phase I of this ITS Demonstration Project -- $1.5 million was appropriated in FFY 2002 as part of the Bus Discretionary program. The remaining $2.5 million has been requested for the upcoming year.
CONCLUSION – "TEA-21 Works"!
Mr. Chairman, the tangible results we have experienced in our State – which are mirrored by communities across the country -- demonstrate that public transit definitely makes a positive difference and that TEA-21 Works! As you move forward to consider reauthorization of the transit provisions of the Act, we strongly ask for your support of increased federal transit investment, a continuation of the TEA-21 funding guarantee provisions, continuation of the flexible funding provisions that allow highway and transit funds to be transferred based on State need; as well as continuation of the current common matching shares for highway and transit projects as provided in TEA-21.
Finally, I cannot end without expressing our pride in your national leadership role on this important issue; and thanking you – on behalf of our many customers, employees and the general public --for all of your extraordinary help and support to improve public transportation in our State.
Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s
Transit 2000…… Expanding Mobility Opportunities
Expanded mobility — the effective movement of people and goods is critical to our State's revitalization. At the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), we believe that TRANSIT 2000 — our new vision and direction for statewide transit services — offers an important component of the State's overall mobility solution.
Since RIPTA's creation in 1964, the travel patterns and mobility needs of Rhode Islanders have changed dramatically. This "changing face of mobility" is not unique to Rhode Island. It is the result of two major phenomena that have occurred across the United States during the past several decades. Specifically, widely dispersed land use and growth patterns characterized by dramatic population shifts to metropolitan and suburban areas; and major demographic shifts — particularly the rapid movement of women into the workforce, special mobility needs of dependent children, and the graying of America.
As populations have increasingly dispersed -automobile ownership and single occupancy vehicle trips — the greatest single source of air pollution — have skyrocketed. Most of us are continually challenged to figure out how to effectively balance our day-to-day responsibilities — family, employment, medical and recreational — with convenient and reliable transportation options. All too often, the only reasonable choice — for those fortunate enough to have a choice — is the single occupancy vehicle.
We are not anti-automobile. We are committed to providing realistic, economical transportation alternatives — quality mobility choices — to the single occupancy vehicle trip. This can only happen if we work together to provide other travel options that conveniently meet the mobility needs of Rhode Island residents and visitors. From our vantage point, our ultimate success in achieving this objective is much more dependent on the establishment of supportive land use, development and governmental policies than on transit subsidies.
TRANSIT 2000 is the result of a year-long review of virtually every aspect of our statewide transit system — both transit and paratransit services. Our strategy links Rhode Island's cities and towns with a broad array of quality transportation choices — specifically "tailored" to more effectively meet the mobility needs of Rhode Island residents, communities, and visitors. Key elements of our new statewide transit strategy are:
TRANSIT CHOICE... One Size Does Not Fit All"
This guide will help you better understand the difference elements of RIPTA’s Transit 2000 Service Plan.
Flex Service includes a wide range of new service strategies specifically designed to serve Rhode Island's low density suburban and rural communities –including community circulators using smaller vehicles that provide limited but predictable internal service (including both fixed points and reservation features) as well as connections to key activity centers throughout the State.
Park-N-Ride Commuter Services specifically designed to provide peak period commuter service to downtown Providence, other major activity centers, and transfer hubs across the State.
Specialized Paratransit Services — the "Ride Program" — to address the special mobility needs of disabled residents and senior citizens. Specific program eligibility and funding for this coordinated transportation service is provided by RIPTA, the RI Department of Elderly Affairs, the RI Department of Mental Health & Retardation, the Governors Commission on Disabilities, and the RI Department of Human Services.
RIPTA’s TRANSIT 2000 Service Plan is a comprehensive modernization plan for Rhode Island’s statewide transit system. The first phase focuses on restructuring RIPTA's "core" transit services (replacing and/or eliminating low productivity services), upgrading basic passenger amenities throughout the state – bus stops, bus shelters, customer information, simplification of RIPTA's overall fare structure; beginning replacement of the system's increasingly aged bus fleet; completion of the Kennedy Plaza Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) in downtown Providence, including implementation of an extensive downtown circulator system in Providence and a complementary Newport system utilizing compressed natural gas, trolley buses; completion of the Pawtucket Transit Center; renovation of the Newport Gateway Center; and the implementation of select pilot projects across the State which include the Newport-to-Providence Water Ferry project, demonstrations of RIPTA's new "flexible" service models; and beginning implementation of new technologies, including new communications and fare collection systems.
Over the next few years, we are also in a unique position to benefit significantly from rail service improvements in the Northeast Corridor. At RIPTA, we look forward to working with other key partners — both locally and regionally -- to ensure integrated planning, intermodal coordination, and maximum positive impact for our State from these new rail service opportunities.
The second phase of TRANSIT 2000 will focus on completing the core network of key transit centers and hubs, implementing new technologies; bringing successful pilot and demonstration projects to scale; and above all -- working in partnership with key stakeholders throughout our State to establish transit friendly land use, growth and development strategies.
Transportation is first and foremost about "people" and "quality of life". Who can (or cannot) get from place to place? How we plan and conduct our daily routines? The choices we make about what we do. Today, we have the need, challenge, and the opportunity to work together to rebuild and strategically reinvest in our statewide transit system. In the final analysis, how we choose to address the critical issues of "mobility" and "access" will determine the overall economic well being, environmental quality, character and livability of communities throughout Rhode Island.
Many thanks to the thousands of Rhode Islanders — both transit riders and non-riders -- who provided us with their recommendations on improving transit services. We also want to express appreciation to RIPTA employees,and our two unions — the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 618 and the Laborers' International Union, Local 808 for their strong partnership in working to improve transit service to the residents and visitors of our State.
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