PAWTUCKET — Change can be scary...especially if it affects one’s ability to get to work, school, or some other important destination.
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) has embarked on a plan to change many of its bus routes statewide, and officials say they are trying to do it without causing hardship to riders.
In an effort that began last summer, RIPTA has been doing a “Comprehensive Operational Analysis,” a study of where riders live and work, how each bus route is performing, and where changes could be made to improve service.
Proposed changes can be found on the “projects” page of RIPTA’s Web site at http://www.ripta.com/coa-project-documents . According to RIPTA officials, each scenario is designed to work within RIPTA’s existing budget. The public is invited to go online to review and comment on two alternative service scenarios, telling RIPTA which ideas they like best.
Included among RIPTA’s proposed changes are efforts to consolidate stops, consolidate routes that duplicate service, expand service to new areas, and discontinue some poorly-utilized services. RIPTA also wants to improve its hubs and develop new “super stops” where routes come together, and better integrate bus and commuter rail services.
One development that RIPTA officials say will provide faster and more frequent service is the “Rapid Bus” line, which makes use of synchronized traffic signals. Plans call for the “R-line,” as it will be known, to combine Route 11 Broad Street in Providence with Route 99. The R-line is slated to be rolled out in January 2014. “It’s going to be great,” Pettine promised.
Among the changes under consideration in the local area are the Route 76 -- Central Avenue being consolidated with Route 80 Armistice Boulevard to form an East Pawtucket circulator route that would operate from the Pawtucket Transit Center via Walcott Street and Armistice Boulevard.
Another important change would be Route 71 -- Broad Street being extended southward along Pawtucket Boulevard to the Ocean State Job Lot. That would replace Route 99 service along Pawtucket Avenue, which will be discontinued with the implementation of a new “Rapid Bus Line” service. The Lincoln Manor service would be discontinued.
Another proposal would consolidate Route 72 Weeden Street/Central Falls with Route 53 Smithfield Avenue, where service would operate between the Pawtucket Transit center and Smithfield Avenue along Route 72’s existing alignment. It would then operate directly on Smithfield Avenue (bypassing Power Road). Also, services to the front doors of Wilfred and Coats Manors would be discontinued due to low ridership.
On Route 75 Dexter Street/Lincoln Mall, service would operate consistently between the Lincoln Mall and the Pawtucket Transit Center every 60 minutes throughout the day. However, due to low ridership, services to FGX International and North Central Industrial Park would be discontinued.
On Route 77 Benefit Street/Broadway, the route’s outer end would be shifted to the South Attleboro MBTA Station to provide commuter rail connections. A second scenario would also combine Route 77 with Route 42 Hope Street and a shortened Route 1 and would operate between the South Attleboro Station and Shaw’s on Warwick Neck Avenue in Cranston.
For Route 79 Columbus Avenue, one scenario has Route 79 continuing to operate as it does now. A second idea is to merge Route 79 with Route 35 Rumford/Newport, which would operate between the Pawtucket Transit Center and Wampanoag Plaza in East Providence via Columbus Avenue, Newport Avenue and Pawtucket Avenue.
On Route 78 Beverage Hill Avenue/Newport Avenue, one scenario keeps the route mostly unchanged, except for dropping front-door service to Rumford Towers, service along Pleasant Street to the Massachusetts state line and along New Road due to low ridership. A second plan would change service in East Providence, where, between the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Pawtucket Avenue and Six Corners, Route 78’s alignment would be swapped with that of Route 35 Rumford/Newport.
According to Amy Pettine, RIPTA’s director of planning and marketing, a final set of recommendations will be presented to RIPTA’s Board of Directors at this month’s board meeting. The next step will be to hold public hearings on the new routes to share the changes with those who use the service. “Most riders will see improvements, but there will be some riders who will see changes in services,” said Pettine.
Pettine said public input is helpful, such as that provided by a manager of the Cottage Street Stop & Shop, who spoke about transportation for area customers and others who want to see a link with the MBTA station in South Attleboro.
Pettine said that with limited resources, RIPTA officials are trying to improve the service along its key corridors and its more regional routes by looking at ridership numbers and where the majority of people are trying to go. They are also analyzing the regional connecting needs that are accessed through a transfer to a major hub such as Kennedy Plaza, downtown Pawtucket and the Newport Gateway.
Pettine said that the Pawtucket bus hub remains an important part of RIPTA’s overall plans, as it is the second biggest hub after Kennedy Plaza. She acknowledged there have been conversations with Pawtucket city officials, including Mayor Donald Grebien, about moving the hub from its present location on Roosevelt Avenue to another site around the corner on High Street, but said this plan is still being looked at.
Also in the mix is a possible reconfiguration of Kennedy Plaza, said Pettine. She noted that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has cited “reinventing Kennedy Plaza” as one of his administration’s goals. His proposals include reducing the number of buses to make the area more of a “mixed use,” pedestrian-friendly space.
“RIPTA wants to be part of the conversation. We’re going to be looking at where the buses stop, where they reconnect, and where we operate in the plaza. We’re also considering things like safety, security, cleanliness, the ease of use of the system,” she said.