Town Council to explore public transit program with RIPTA

Thu, 01/28/2021 - 6:30pm

Town Manager Mary Crawford presented a possible public transportation pilot program for the summer of 2021 in her monthly report to the Town Council on Jan. 20. Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, has offered to provide two trolleys for the summer season.

The following is from her report to the council:

“In light of last summer’s issues, including increasing pedestrian, auto and truck congestion in certain corridors, Nicole Verdi, Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Raimondo asked that I meet with Scott Avedisian, CEO for Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to explore how they might help. Town Planner Alison Ring and I met with Scott and Greg Nordin, Chief of Strategic Advancement, on several occasions to explore the possibility of a pilot public transportation program for Block Island this summer. RIPTA has agreed to provide two old styled trolleys beginning around Memorial Day, through Labor Day. I thought it would be best to get the Town Council’s input. At this time, we have not agreed and/or committed to anything with RIPTA. Many details need to be finalized. Addressing the many concerns of last summer is multifaceted. It appears clear that over the past five years, fixed width sidewalks crowded with even more pedestrians, bigger and wider SUVs and pickup trucks, cars, delivery trucks, bikes and mopeds, and limited parking have contributed to a loss of quality of life for residents and this may be one small step in alleviating some of that seasonal congestion.”

Crawford noted RIPTA will come to the council’s work session on Wednesday, Feb. 3 “with some information and give some opportunity to discuss.”

Chair of the Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire Brad Marthens joined the call to share his thoughts on the matter.

“I’m surprised to see [Crawford] has met with RIPTA without any communication with our commission. This is a large vehicle or trolley. We all know some of the difficulties with them out here. I think this has to be put on hold to have some opportunity to give some input,” said Marthens.

In a letter from the commission dated Monday, Jan. 18 to the council, Marthens wrote:

“The New Shoreham Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire was surprised to see this and not to have been informed or included. The CMVH is asking that the Town Council does not act on this proposal at this time… The CMVH would like to have an opportunity to address that issue before allowing the state of Rhode Island to operate RIPTA buses for an essentially eight- to 10-week period at state and taxpayer expense. The Block Island taxi services are the most affordable and efficient transportation on our small seasonal island and at no cost to the state, town and the taxpayer. It is disappointing this is coming to light in this way with no advance communication with CMVH because of last summer’s taxi owners’ and operators’ huge effort to provide safe and efficient transportation at their own expense in light of state modifications and requirements to keep passengers and drivers safe.”

Second Warden Sven Risom stated in response to Marthens’ comments that the council would discuss the matter as an agenda item at the Feb. 3 Town Council meeting.

“Brad, I agree with you. The Feb. 3 meeting is a work session amongst us, and the goal of that meeting is to get a good dialogue and get input. We are trying to get feedback and understanding. My hope is that many of your comments can be addressed at that meeting,” said Risom.

“I think that this will be a discussion with everyone at the Feb. 3 meeting – taxis, the public. I think that is when we will hash it out. It’s not that RIPTA will be speaking first; RIPTA will be presenting a plan and everyone will have input,” said First Warden André Boudreau.

“I think we should have a discussion on this before you have them here,” said Marthens.

An on-island “jitney” service was discussed in 2019 with then-Town Manager Ed Roberge, which was passed onto Interim Town Manager Jim Kern and now current Town Manager Maryanne Crawford.

“We did have a discussion with the CMVH on this. Ed Roberge was discussing this with RIPTA. Maryanne is just picking up the ball. The presentation is going to be made to all of us,” said Boudreau.

“One of the reasons we have a bright and engaged town manager is to be thinking about these things. I applaud Maryanne for having these conversations and for bringing these people out to tell us what they have for us. It’s just taking a look and I think that makes a lot of sense,” said Councilor Keith Stover.

Boudreau agreed with Stover, and noted RIPTA’s offer will be a topic for continued discussion.

“The state is coming to us through RIPTA with a plan. I think I came here with the attitude on not slamming the door on anyone. It’s a discussion and I don’t want to say no,” said Boudreau.