Opposition to RIDOT's Multi-Hub Bus System Swells

Date: October 14, 2020

PROVIDENCE — Opposition to the state’s proposed multi-hub bus plan is gaining strength.

On Oct. 7, the City Council committee on urban planning unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s proposed Multi-Hub Bus System.

The nonbinding directive recognizes public disapproval of the RIDOT plan from transit advocates and groups such as Rhode Island Transit Riders, Providence Streets Coalition, Providence Preservation Society, Grow Smart Rhode Island, and the Jewelry District Association.

There is widespread worry among opponents about prolonged commutes caused by the need for additional bus transfers. It’s feared that this hardship will be imposed disproportionately on people of color, low-income communities, seniors, and persons with disabilities.

The committee’s resolution was written, in part, because of RIDOT’s lack of response to the outcry.

“There does not appear to be any intention from the Department of Transportation to amend the proposal or in any way respond to the concerns raised by the local community who are being asked to live with the new proposal,” according to the one-page resolution.

The state’s plan reorganizes Kennedy Plaza and creates three bus hubs in other parts of the city. (RIDOT)

The state’s plan reorganizes Kennedy Plaza and creates three bus hubs in other parts of the city. (RIDOT)

RIDOT’s latest proposal shrinks the central bus terminal at Kennedy Plaza by distributing bus stops to the train station on Gaspee Street and a proposed new bus terminal on Dyer Street in the Jewelry District. The Dyer Street location is of particular concern because it’s not within walking distance for riders living and working in frontline communities.

The lack of confidence in the proposal, according to opponents, has been eroded by RIDOT’s absence of research on the impacts the proposed three bus centers would have on riders, coupled with the fact that it’s the agency’s third proposal to decentralize bus traffic in Kennedy Plaza in four years.

The environmental advocacy group Green Energy Consumers Alliance said inefficient public transposition could harm efforts to reduce carbon emissions by pushing more people to drive cars.

“We cannot hope to address the climate crisis by making the bus more difficult to use,” said Mal Skowron, program associate for the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

Skowron noted in a Sept. 30 letter to the city that 81 percent of public bus riders don’t have access to vehicles, while 39 percent make less than $10,000 in household income annually.

“There is nothing to gain from breaking up the bus hub at Kennedy Plaza,” Skowron said. “This would be a disaster for the climate, but this is not just a climate issue. It’s also an equity issue because the people most affected by the multi-hub plan will be low-income people and people of color in Providence.”

Rhode Island Transit Riders has put the blame on Gov. Gina Raimondo and her attempt to run the plan through RIDOT.

“An agency that knows nothing about public transit, and wealthy insiders along with Gina Raimondo have collaborated to come up with a multi-hub replacement for Kennedy Plaza that would be bad for riders,” according to the organization.

An online petition led by the group asks Raimondo to withdraw the plan.

Rhode Island Transit Riders plans to hold a bus forum in Kennedy Plaza in the coming weeks to hear from riders, stakeholders, and experts about bus transit in the city.

The committee’s resolution is expected to go before the City Council at its meeting scheduled Oct. 15.