Town Council chooses island proposal over RIPTA’s

Thu, 03/04/2021 - 5:45pm

The Town Council decided to stick with a local solution at its meeting on Monday, March 1 instead of accepting the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s offer of two trolley-style buses to provide public transportation on the island this summer.

“As you remember a few weeks ago, we met with the Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire and asked both the MVFH and RIPTA to come back with proposals,” said Town Manager Maryanne Crawford. “I ask the council, what is your pleasure in that regard?”

RIPTA’s transit plan for the island included two trolley-style buses, 35 feet long and nine feet wide. The local, alternative proposal presented by taxi owner Judy Clark and Motor Vehicles for Hire Chair Brad Marthens would use a standard passenger van, 21 feet long and six feet wide. An electric vehicle could possibly be involved in the future as an extra shuttle.

Some council members had expressed concerns about RIPTA’s vehicles operating on the island’s roads, especially during a season when traffic congestion intensifies. Second Warden Sven Risom had seen one of RIPTA’s smaller trolleys in operation while in Providence recently.

“I did have a chance to see a couple of the trolleys in action. I appreciate seeing [the trolley] in a real world [setting], and see they are smaller than the large RIPTA trolley, but still rather large. I think it does pose some unique challenges from a culture point of view and an island point of view,” said Risom.

Councilor Keith Stover said: “I have a very strong preference for an island-based solution. I think there needs to be some more meat on the bones [of the island shuttle program]. I don’t view this as a replacement for taxis but I think we need a more efficient and affordable way to move people around.”

First Warden André Boudreau was leaning towards supporting RIPTA’s proposal.

“My feeling hasn’t changed: this is part of a traffic plan. This trolley will be able to move 20 people around the island, whereas the taxis would be able to take four where it stands now,” said Boudreau. “I am in favor of a local solution but I fear a local solution will not happen in two months. I favored the RIPTA proposal, and people deemed [their buses] to be too big. The next step with RIPTA was to bring one out here and drive around. Am I hearing we don’t want to entertain that at all?” said Boudreau.

“I think we should have a motion to move forward with the local option and have a couple of weeks to do the analysis,” said Stover. He then made a motion for the town manager to work with the MVFH to come up with a plan for the summer.

The motion was seconded by Risom, and passed two to one, with recusals from Councilors Martha Ball and Mark Emmanuelle, who are both taxi owners.

Risom asked the council to keep the offer from RIPTA on the table for the future.

“I am in favor of a local solution for a number of reasons,” said Risom. “I would promise you, if [the island-based solution] doesn’t go very far, and isn’t supported in great earnest, [we should talk] to [RIPTA] in the fall. For the 2021 season, I would like to take the MVFH letter of intent and spend the next few weeks with them and Maryanne working out the details.”

Update from Warcup

Earlier in the meeting, Block Island Medical Center Director Dr. Tom Warcup provided a Covid-19 update to the council.

“Rhode Island’s positivity rate is down to a low of 2.1, and new cases have dropped significantly in the past six weeks,” said Warcup. “We have only had one isolated case here on the island in the past six weeks. These wins are due to our community maintaining the mask and other safety measures. Let’s please keep it up.”

“As of this Saturday [Feb. 27], we have over 380 community members vaccinated, and over 120 community members fully vaccinated. Thank you for all the outstanding teamwork,” said Warcup.