When Mayor Scott Avedisian assumes his new job as CEO of the Rhode Island Transit Authority June 1, he wants to improve service by strengthening the connection between Rhode Island’s universities, capturing more riders of choice, and creating more links between different types of transportation.
“It’s not just the colleges,” said Avedisian. “It’s going to be the job centers. It’s going to be Quonset. It’s going to be Davisville. It’s going to be how can we move people most effectively and efficiently.”
Avedisian outlined a few of objectives in an interview Monday.
On top of Avedisian list of priorities is connecting and moving around efficiently the students at Rhode Island’s colleges and universities. Avedisian discussed flex service, and the need for bus schedules to line up with student demand and class times.
“It’s going to need to be flex service,” said Avedisian. “There’s going to be certain times of the day when classes reach a critical mass and you can move enough people to make it worth it to do that. And it may be evening classes. It may be that there’s a two and half hour evening class at NEIT.”
Avedisian wants the UPass program, which gives discounted bus fees to college students, to be improved, and for RIPTA to better serve campuses such as the Community College of Rhode Island.
“We need to figure out how we move students more efficiently and more effectively,” said Avedisian. “That’s one of the big issues I would like to work on.”
Another concern for Avedisian will be capturing riders of choice. Riders of choice are usually riders who own, or could own, a vehicle, but choose to ride RIPTA regardless. Some have environmental concerns or want to reduce their carbon footprint.
“We need to figure out how to capture those people,” said Avedisian. “We need to make it a pleasant and good ridership experience so that they will not only join but continue to ride.”
Avedisian also wants to follow through on the transportation-oriented developments already announced in Pawtucket and Central Falls. Transportation oriented developments are areas where public transport is part of the fabric of the community, so residents can live without having to own cars. The TOD movement is spreading throughout the United States, seeking a future without cars.
“The link to rail and the link to light rail is going to be incredibly important,” said Avedisian of these new developments.
The Interlink system at Green Airport is an example of this type of transportation.
Avedisian also voiced some concerns about funding, and the desire to “get the best value that we can.
Avedisian has had past experience with RIPTA. He was chair of the board from 2012 to 2016, where during his time with the organization he helped work on the R-line in Providence and a rework of upper staff management.
Innovations like the R-line are initiatives Avedisian wants to grow and improve.
“They really structured the R-line to move the largest number of people in the system as quickly as possible,” said Avedisian. “Those kind of innovations are really important for the future of mass transit.”
The R-line in Providence is a bus line running from RIPTA’s hub at Kennedy Square in Providence all the way down towards the Providence - Cranston border. The bus line acts like a subway, with buses coming every 10 minutes during peak hours. This makes public transport a more reliable option for commuters and occasional users alike.
The Beacon also asked Avedisian about the infamous “Caution! Bus is turning” message played over loudspeakers. Installed last year, the message is meant to protect pedestrians, often distracted by phones and other devices, from turning buses. The system, designed and sold by Protran Technology of New Jersey, cost $400,000 but has garnered complaints for being too loud and disruptive in residential areas.
“It is loud, it’s supposed to be because it’s supposed to grab your attention so you know there’s a bus,” said Avedisian. “I’m willing to have discussions with people about how that changes, but I think we really need to make sure that we’re protecting people as much as we possibly can.”
Avedisian will find some ready workers when he gets to RIPTA.
Thomas Cute, president of the RIPTA bus driver’s union Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618, said, “we look forward to working with [Avedisian]. He’s been very efficient in taking care of transit projects in the City of Warwick and he’s been instrumental in improving transport.”
Of labor relations between RIPTA and the bus driver’s union Cute said, “Mayors know how to get things done. They have to be well versed. I suspect there will be sometimes when we don’t agree, but I know he’ll be listening to me.”
The RIPTA Riders Alliance, the lobbying body for RI passengers, also supports Avedisian’s appointment.
A letter on the RIPTA Riders Alliance Facebook page from Don Rhodes, president of the organization says, “The RIPTA Riders Alliance supports the appointment of Scott Avedisian to the position of CEO of RIPTA. We want to note we had a good relationship with Avedisian when he was RIPTA Board Chair. We appreciated that he was a Board member who showed real concern for RIPTA and its passengers.”
Avedisian will leave as mayor on May 15.