By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — It might be a stay of execution or a sign of a possible pardon, but the RIPTA board of directors has declared it will wait a month before determining how to fill its $4.6 million budget deficit.
At a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board meeting Monday, director Tom Deller said the committee will consider alternatives, including the use of a budget surplus, "to find a way to solve our financial problem without any cuts."
Some 50 supporters of keeping RIPTA services intact took turns voicing their concerns to the board about proposed reductions in service until 10 p.m., cancellation of several routes, removing bus stops and ending holiday service.
"A lot more people will be devastated in Rhode Island if cuts go through the way I think they will," said Roger Harris, a disabled rider from Woonsocket.
Other supporters — many wearing "I Love RIPTA" pins — and members of the advocacy group RIPTA Riders pushed the board to challenge the General Assembly to replace the current gas tax with a new method for funding the state's buses and trolleys. "Plan for the long term," said RIPTA Rider organizer Randall Rose. "Something to allow us to have a stable public transit system in Rhode Island."
RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe agreed. "The problem is simply the way we are funded," he said. The loss of federal funds and unusual absenteeism where also to blame for escalating costs, Odimgbe said. But the biggest drag is a gas tax that brings in less revenue as gas prices climb and motorists cut their travel.
"When you listen to these public comments it's very painful," he said.