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Monday, July 25, 2011

RIPTA cuts will hurt South County

The Westerly Sun’s Emily Dupuis wrote about threats to bus service vital to many South County residents on Sunday. Thankfully, the Sun didn’t stick her article behind their pay wall.

This will be one of Emily’s last articles before she leaves for a great new job as a researcher in Washington, DC. Her good fortune is our bad luck as another good, experienced local journalist leaves.

Her story details severe cuts in service to Route 90, one of the most important public transportation links between southwestern RI and the Providence metro area.

Like so many other vital government services, RIPTA is being hammered by budget cuts due to our state’s messed up priorities (i.e. tax cuts for the rich and dubious subsidies for free-loading companies like Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios are more important than public transportation).

Charlestown has no RIPTA service. Clearly, we can’t allow conveyances such as diesel-powered busses into town – even if RIPTA was in a position to offer them – because who knows who might be on them. Now stage coach service, maybe with stops at the General Stanton Inn or Wilcox Tavern, maybe.

But I digress. There actually are people in Charlestown who either need or choose to use public transportation. To catch a bus to Providence, you have to go to one of Route 90’s stops (Westerly Amtrak, or the Park and Ride lots in Hopkinton and Richmond). Alternatively, you can go into Wakefield or to URI. There's also the expensive option of riding AMTRAK to Providence from Westerly or Kingston.

But whatever route you attempt to use, chances are the service will be sharply curtailed.

Westerly-to-Providence faces a 50% cut in weekday service. One of the two out-bound morning runs will be cancelled as will one of the return runs in the late afternoon. The two runs proposed for cancellation average between 23 and 31 riders each day, guaranteeing that the one remaining run each way will be SRO (standing room only), a lovely way to make the one-hour trip.

RIPTA will hold public hearings on its proposed cuts starting tomorrow in Newport and ending on August 2nd in Narragansett. There won’t be a hearing in Westerly. The closest hearing for Charlestown will be the final one in Narragansett, August 2 at Narragansett Town Hall from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 PM.

The General Assembly did not act on a variety of budget measures that would have helped close the budget gap without such draconian cutbacks. Bills proposed by Rep. Larry Valencia and Donna Walsh to roll-back ill-advised tax cuts on the wealthiest Rhode Islanders never made it out of committee.

Instead, the Tea Party philosophy of taking a meat cleaver to government services prevailed in our state legislature. As I’ll discuss in upcoming articles, even though “Democrats” hold an overwhelming majority in both houses of the General Assembly, the true majority is held by DINOs (“Democrats in Name Only”) who would almost certainly be Republicans in any other state in the union. And what we now face are the consequences of having Republican/DINOs dictating budget priorities.

Author: Will Collette