PROVIDENCE — The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday advanced a significantly scaled back version of a proposed overhaul of RIPTA.
The new proposal would expand RIPTA’s board of directors by one, giving it nine members, and make the Rhode Island Department of Transportation director the chair of it. Under current law, the director already serves on the RIPTA board. The original version would have put RIPTA fully within RIDOT. The new proposal is what’s called a Sub-A, or a proposed substitute version. The Sub-A is what advanced out of committee.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio introduced the bill, and its predecessor.
“The Senate President continues to believe that RIDOT should oversee all transportation matters in our state, including public transit,” spokesman Greg Pare said. “While he continues to work towards that ultimate goal, naming the RIDOT Director as Chairman of the Board of RIPTA is an acceptable first step for the time being.”
Some transit advocates still don’t like it. In a statement Thursday, the organization RI Transit Riders signaled distrust with RIDOT, calling it auto-centric. What RIPTA really needs to do, the group said, is address its fiscal cliff, and for CEO Scott Avedisian to be more visible.
John Flaherty, deputy director of the organization Grow Smart RI, said the bill is “a solution in search of a problem.”
“RIPTA isn’t broken — it’s severely underfunded,” he said in an email. “This bill is fiddling while Rome burns.”
But RIPTA board member Patrick Crowley, the secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO who has been critical lately of RIPTA’s direction, called the new proposal a fair compromise.
“It’s been clear to me as a Board member that the current members of the Board seem unconcerned about the long term health of the Agency, while some of the public’s concerns about DOT taking over RIPTA have some merit,” he said in an email. “To me, this is a positive step in the right direction.”
To become law, the proposal would have to pass the full Senate, as well as the House, and be signed by the governor.
This story has been updated with the results of the Senate Finance Committee vote.