Block Island Shuttle arrives
The New Shoreham Town Council voted on Monday to authorize the Motor Vehicles for Hire’s Point-to-Point Program, also known as the Block Island
Shuttle, by raising the capacity limits on taxis from twelve to fifteen persons, and amending the New Shoreham Revised General Ordinances Chapter 8, Article VII to define the program. The Point-to- Point Program is a shuttle bus service with designated pickup and drop off points. The commission has determined the designated pickup and drop off areas as Old Harbor at the statue of Rebecca, Fred Benson Beach Pavilion, Payne’s Dock, New Harbor Boat Basin, and Champlin’s Marina.
According to taxi owner Judy Clark, the designated taxis operating as a shuttle will leave at 9 a.m., one from Rebecca and one from Champlin’s, traveling in opposite directions on the route. This will create a loop in which a taxi will arrive at each designated stop every half hour. There are seventeen taxis currently signed up to participate, and Clark says the taxi owners will create a schedule to keep the service running smoothly. She says communication will be key, and that communication is one of the strengths of the taxi businesses on the island.
The service will run daily from June 25 through Labor Day. Clark anticipates each taxi only having about eight days as the shuttle service provider, with two taxis on each day.
The Point-to-Point program was developed in response to the plan floated to the Town Council in which Rhode Island Public Transit Authority would provide trolley buses as public transportation on Block Island. The Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission, along with numerous townsfolk, impressed upon the Town Council their desire that a shuttle service be developed and run by islanders rather than by the state. The council agreed, and the MVFH put the program together, allowing the various owners of the fleet of taxis to opt into the program on a voluntary basis.
The cost to use the service is $5 for adults, $1 for children eight years of age and under, and $3 for island workers. Many people have expressed interest in the program, but Clark points out that the cost may make some people reconsider.
Per the 2021 taxi rates, proposed by the MVFH and approved by the Town Council, a trip from Old Harbor to New Harbor costs $10 with $1 added per additional passenger. So a group of three adults using a taxi will cost $12. If that same group of three adults used the Block Island shuttle service to get
from Old Harbor to one of the New Harbor stops of Payne’s Dock, New Harbor Boat Basin, or Champlin’s Marina, the total cost will be $15.
When pushing for local ownership and control of the shuttle program, it is unclear if Block Island residents intended for the public transit option to cost more than a taxi ride.
A single traveler will still find a good value in the Point-to-Point program, however, and island workers who do not have to be to work until after 9 a.m. will
find it an affordable option for commuting.
During the course of the meeting, the Town Council also voted to extend taxi license deferrals in 2021 in the same way as 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, numerous taxi drivers did not operate during 2020. There is a waiting list for taxi licenses, and if someone does not use their license it goes to the next person on the list.
Last year, and again this year, the Town Council opted to allow people to defer to the next person on the waiting list without losing their spot. As such, the council voted to award the last open license to the eleventh person on the list, Patrick Evans, after the first ten people opted to defer.
The speed with which people found themselves moving up the list was surprising, and many were not ready to drop everything and buy a taxi. Some current licensees did not agree with the option to defer, with Clark telling the council that it was always short notice when you were picked from the waiting list for a taxi license. “You have to keep your eye on the list, and see what’s happening, and either take it or don’t,” she said.
John Cullen called in to explain that it had taken him eight years to move from number 18 to number 9 on the list, but only one month to move the rest of the way up, as everyone in front of him deferred.
“If I was number one, two, three, or four on the list I can understand that, you should be ready,” Cullen said. Cullen went on to say that the current situation was “unprecedented in the history of this waiting list.” Given that the commission is awarding licenses so far down the list, Cullen felt “any reasonable person would say I understand why that guy can’t get it together and get a cab on the road.”
Whether they have it together or not, the taxis have a full fleet of thirty-four cabs on the road, and a new Point-to-Point Shuttle Program to implement for the summer.