By AARON BUCKLEY/special to ecoRI News
PROVIDENCE — Student Community Government Inc. (SCG) at Rhode Island College has been at the forefront of advocacy for broad, comprehensive public transportation in Rhode Island. In the past three years, Student Parliament has introduced and passed several resolutions supporting additional collaboration between the college and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA). These efforts have paid off significantly, thanks to a strong partnership between student government and RIC President Nancy Carriuolo’s administration.
Before public transportation became a hot topic on the student-body agenda, Rhode Island College was the only public institution in the state that didn’t offer a subsidy for RIPTA e-fare passes. Both the University of Rhode Island and the Community College of Rhode Island have been offering half-price passes for the past few years because of dedicated student fees.
The No. 55 and No. 26 bus lines, with no Sunday service and early terminating night trips, serviced Rhode Island College inadequately. This deficit of adequate transit infrastructure compounded the campus’s perennial parking issues to create a nightmare for commuters, whether bus riders, motorists or bicyclists.
These issues have been brought to Student Parliament over the years, but nothing specifically addressing RIPTA was passed until 2008, when Tim McCormick, then RIPTA’s planning director, was invited to Parliament to explore options for making RIPTA rides cheaper for RIC students. The students responded with calls for expanded late-night and weekend service, a bus shelter and, most importantly, half-price bus passes.
SCG presented RIPTA as an issue of importance and necessity to everyone on campus, not just the students who would utilize the bus. For every student who chooses to take the bus instead of driving to campus, there is one less parking spot being occupied. This argument resonated with the student body, which favorably responded to an official survey of students’ opinions on a potential transportation fee that would subsidize RIPTA e-fare.
Carriuolo has described herself as a “green” president, and she was an early ally of SCG. The college worked with the Office of Higher Education (OHE) to start a half-price discount program. The program was a resounding success and the OHE actually ran over budget because of student demand. The program, unfortunately, had to be stopped, but SCG responded by allocating $25,000 of its general budget to reinstituting the discount.
These efforts culminated in Student Parliament’s endorsement of a Safety and Transportation Fee, which was subsequently supported by Carriuolo and the Board of Governors for Higher Education and instituted. Ridership data prove the success of this campaign.
While the Campus Bookstore sold only single-digit numbers of bus passes per month before a discount was instituted, it now sells several hundred. The previously empty bus stop is now populated throughout the day, and a bus shelter is being designed and built out of the president’s own funds. SCG believes strongly in public transportation’s positive role in supporting not just students, but also the city and state economy.