RIPTA Board Members Don't Ride Bus Regularly

A bill requiring the RIPTA board of directors to include at least one frequent bus rider and a disabled rider received a Senate hearing March 9. (Kevin Proft/ecoRI News)

A bill requiring the RIPTA board of directors to include at least one frequent bus rider and a disabled rider received a Senate hearing March 9. (Kevin Proft/ecoRI News)

By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — None of the eight members serving on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s board of directors use the agency's standard, fixed-route bus service regularly. Bills introduced in both houses of the legislature aim to rectify that situation.

The bills would amend legislation regarding the composition of RIPTA’s governor-appointed board in three ways. It would require that at least one member of the board be a regular user of fixed-route RIPTA transportation, require that at least one member of the board be a person with a disability, and add RIPTA Riders Alliance — the organization that crafted the legislation — to the list of groups that the governor should consult for recommendations for appointments. RIPTA Riders Alliance didn’t exist at the time the original legislation passed.

If passed, the same person could fulfill both the disabled and frequent-user requirements. The bills don’t specifically define the term “regular-user,” thereby leaving some discretion to the governor.

The legislation is timely as the terms of four existing members of RIPTA’s board will expire April 1, at which time the governor will be responsible for appointing their successors.

If a frequent bus rider was appointed to the board, the board would better understand the conditions passengers experience, according to Barry Schiller, who recently spoke to ecoRI News on behalf of the RIPTA Riders Alliance. Schiller is a former member of RIPTA’s board of directors and a frequent bus rider; as a board member he used to explain routes and problems, such as the lack of snow removal at bus stops, to fellow members, who were not regular riders, he said.

No one would accept an airport corporation board of directors composed of members who didn’t fly regularly, Schiller noted.

Having a disabled appointee on the board of directors similarly broadens the overall knowledge of the collective group, he said. “Board members should know about facilities for disabled riders or RIde program experiences from a rider’s viewpoint,” Schiller said.

Malchus Mills, a disabled veteran who testified on behalf of Direct Action for Rights and Equality in favor of the Senate bill at a March 9 Senate Housing and Municipal Government Committee hearing, said that including riders and people with disabilities on the board gives those populations a voice.

“This is a system we use all the time,” he said. “We need to be a part of the decision-making process.”

Three members of the RIPTA Riders Alliance testified in favor of the bill, including president Don Rhodes who, as a person with a disability and a frequent rider, has submitted his name to the governor’s office for consideration to fill one of the upcoming vacancies.

Robert Marshall, who testified on behalf of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, also supported the bill. “There is a member of our council (with a disability) currently serving on RIPTA’s board, but we would like to have that codified to ensure that he will be replaced with someone else with a disability (at the end of his term),” he said.

No one testified against the bill at the March 9 hearing.

The House bill referred to the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee and has yet to receive a hearing date. The Senate bill was held for further study.