RIPTA to introduce new rapid route, other services

Rhode Island's public transportation agency is launching a series of initiatives, including a new faster bus route on its highest ridership corridor and smartphone bus tracking, that it says will improve experiences for riders.

Among the $16 million in initiatives announced Monday by Rhode Island Public Transit Authority officials is the first Rapid Bus Route, which will replace local service from the Providence-Cranston line to downtown Providence, and into Pawtucket.

The R-Line, scheduled to launch in January, will shave 10 minutes off a one-way trip in part through the upgrade of traffic signals so buses can take advantage of green lights and travel more efficiently.

The route will feature 25 new bus shelters and seven ticket vending machines so riders can purchase tickets or passes before getting on.

System-wide, RIPTA also plans to eliminate bus stops that are too close together, so buses will have to stop less frequently. RIPTA CEO Raymond Studley said the national standard for the placement of stops is 600 to 900 feet. Stops in Rhode Island are closer to 300 or 400 feet apart.

"It makes it inconvenient for people to get to work on time," RIPTA Chairman and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said at an event at Burnside Park across from Kennedy Plaza, Providence's public transit hub.

RIPTA is also introducing a way for riders to find out on their smartphones when the next bus is scheduled to arrive. The agency's new automated transit management system will also include automated onboard stop announcements and video surveillance as a way of ensuring passenger safety, officials said.

RIPTA is also introducing new schedules that are designed to be more predictable and easier to understand.

The bulk of the money for the projects is coming from federal sources.

Some of the initiatives outlined Monday are part of a comprehensive RIPTA study done over the past year in which riders and non-riders were surveyed about services they use and ones they want. Studley said RIPTA is trying to improve riders' experience.

"It's a good investment," he said of public transit. "It's a lifeline to a lot of people to get where they need to go."

Speaking after the news conference, Studley also described a broader "culture change" at RIPTA. He initially took over temporarily after former CEO Charles Odimgbe was suspended. Odimgbe later reached a settlement with the board and left; the circumstances of his departure were never fully explained publicly.

Studley said his biggest concern is responsible use of the agency's finances: "In any agency, not just RIPTA, you need to be fiscally disciplined."

RIPTA rider Tim Bowen, from Warren, ticked off some of his complaints about the transit agency as he waited for the 34 bus at Kennedy Plaza on Monday. He said some buses are overcrowded, and some bus drivers are "just plain jerks."

"They definitely need to make changes," he said of RIPTA.