The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority provides one million Rhode Islanders with affordable and accessible bus service. With an annual budget of $34 million, a staff of 507 and a fleet of buses numbering 225, last year RIPTA moved nearly 19 million riders through 36 of its 39 cities and towns. We are able to continue providing this important service to Rhode Islanders due in large part to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 -- more commonly known as ISTEA.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am speaking before you today on behalf of the people of Rhode Island. They and I congratulate you on your foresight and wisdom in creating ISTEA.
My testimony today will clearly demonstrate the positive effects of this revolutionary act. I will present examples of how ISTEA works for Rhode Islanders and how it has created revolutionary change in the ways the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority meets the needs of its citizens.
I will outline our state's accomplishments, which is also the home state of your chairman and the father of RIPTA, our Senator, John Chafee. It was his vision and leadership that helped create a new direction for transportation funding. It was his vision and leadership 30 years ago -- when he was governor of Rhode Island -- that created the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.
Sen. Chafee's foresight makes Rhode Island one of a handful of statewide transit operations in the nation. The multiple benefits of a statewide operation are enormous. Through coordination of services, we avoid duplication, reduce our operating expenses and make the best and most efficient use of our personnel.
Public transit is a critical part of life in Rhode Island. We rank third in the nation in the number of residents 65 and older. Nearly 19 percent of our daily riders are elderly or persons with disabilities. School children, low-income families and welfare recipients comprise a significant portion of our ridership.
In 1999, under the Clinton plan, Rhode Island will lose up to $10 million in federal funding. It will dramatically affect our quality of life and the way people live and work in our state. The effects of reducing RIPTA's $36 million dollar budget by $10 million will seriously alter the quality of life for the people of Rhode Island.
ISTEA funding has made it possible for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to provide basic services to our customers. There are no frills, no bells or whistles in our operating budget. There is nowhere to cut the budget that would not have a major effect on public transportation for Rhode Islanders.
When you invest in Rhode Island with ISTEA, you help to provide the linkage over an entire state that improves the mobility opportunities for our citizens.
When you cut our fair share of funding, you eliminate the lifeline for the people of Rhode Island.
People like Mary Ann.
A single mother with two school age children and a pre-schooler, Mary Ann is struggling to create a life for herself that doesn't include public assistance or food stamps. So five days a week, Mary Ann awakens her three children at six o'clock in the morning, prepares their breakfasts and lunches, gets herself and the children dressed and out the door by seven. She walks to the corner of her street and catches the first of three RIPTA buses she will take to get her three children to elementary school, a day care center and finally to her school -- a literacy center where she is receiving lessons in reading and writing, and job training for a career in the health field.
Fortunately for Mary Ann, and many like her, RIte Care makes it possible for her to ride the bus. RIte Care is Rhode Island's health insurance program for low-income children and pregnant women. It's also the state's managed care program for families that need assistance. RIPTA saw the need for a linkage with the RIteCare program well before the national focus on welfare reform. ISTEA allows us to maximize this federal funding investment by creating this local program to better serve the needs of people like Mary Ann.
And people like the Jamestown (RI) town manager who chairs the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) in Rhode Island. Comprising city planners, environment leaders, department of transportation representatives and community members from all walks of life. The TIP Committee in RI is the decision-making authority for ISTEA funding.
For example, the committee targeted our Bike Rack program as worthy of funding. In a few months every one of our 225 buses will be equipped with bike racks. Connecting mass transit and bicycles for congestion reduction and air quality improvements is a natural fit. Not everyone is within walking distance of bus routes, nor do they wish to drive to a fringe parking facility. At a relatively low cost, the Bike Rack program will produce long lasting positive effects on air quality improvements, fuel and traffic reduction.
Not only do these examples point up how RIPTA -- through ISTEA funding -- is responding to the needs of the community, it clearly illustrates how we work hand in hand with other state and local agencies in delivering transportation choices.
ISTEA: A revolutionary act creating revolutionary change for Rhode Island
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 was not only landmark legislation, it was revolutionary. By changing the way the nation view's surface transportation, it set the course for the public transit challenge for the next millennium. To meet this challenge, we must continue to find ways of reducing congestion on our highways. At the same time, we must find ways to provide affordable and accessible transportation choices for a nation that is increasingly on the move.
Continued ISTEA funding for public transit is critical. The expected loss of federal operating assistance -- as President Clinton has proposed -- will hurt RIPTA more than the larger systems who are less dependent on operating assistance, or the small systems slated for continued operating support.
For urbanized areas with more than 200,000 people, the Administration proposes to expand the definition of capital to include "preventive maintenance" costs of transit assets, contracted American with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, and debt service. This added flexibility would replace operating assistance.
There is no firm definition of preventive maintenance costs. In order to realize the maximum benefit from this additional flexibility, the definition needs to include all normal direct and indirect maintenance operating costs, i.e., all labor, parts and material utilized to maintain the Authority's rolling stock, non-revenue vehicles, physical plant and equipment.
We can not lose sight of the positive and productive impact that ISTEA has had in Rhode Island. It has allowed Rhode Islanders to make transportation decisions for Rhode Islanders. The people know what roads need to be paved. The people know the importance of repairing and maintaining our bridges. The people have a right to choose their modes of transportation. In fact, more people today are choosing RIPTA as their transportation choice than ever before.
More transportation choices
Joe and Ellie live in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Once a month on a Saturday morning, they drive from their home to Pawtucket, RI, where they park their car in a Park and Ride lot. They take a RIPTA bus to Providence and walk a short distance to the train station. They board the train to New York where they catch a Broadway matinee followed by a late lunch or some shopping. At the end of the day, they reverse their travel pattern and are home again in time to feed their two Golden Retrievers a late supper.
Rhode Island's central location is the heart of the Golden Triangle and illustrates the efficiency of the Northeast Corridor. Joe and Ellie's day in New York illustrates how ISTEA funding is providing a quality of life for people by offering them an ever-expanding menu of transportation choices. These choices include RIPTA, Amtrak and the New York transit system.
ISTEA: Providing a quality of life for the RI community
Concerns about transportation's impact on natural and built environments are reflected in ISTEA. Thus, ISTEA forged a stronger link between transportation and air quality planning. Although there are differing opinions about the best way to reduce air pollution, ISTEA has encouraged the transportation community to address this problem.
RIPTA is addressing the problem by providing free rides during Ozone Alert Days and by installing bike racks on its fleet of buses. RIPTA's innovative Newport Summer Enhancement Service has improved transit service in our world-famous City by The Sea. RIPTA, in partnership with community groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Newport Preservation Society, government officials and the tourist industry RIPTA designed a summer transportation system to tourist attractions seven days a week. The City of Newport, Rhode Island's most congested traffic area illustrates a targeted demonstration of what good transit service can do in mitigating
congestion and associated air pollution, as well as encouraging tourism -- one of Rhode Island's most important industries.
At the same time, ISTEA gave us the flexibility to create transit programs that are working for Rhode Islanders like Mary Ann, Joe and Ellie.
At RIPTA, we constantly remind ourselves that public transit is about people. We listen to our customers and respond to their needs. When the RIte Care program was introduced in Rhode Island, RIPTA saw a way to provide and improve services to low-income mothers and their children. We responded rapidly to the federal mandates of the American Disability Act and created a statewide paratransit service, which provides the elderly and disabled with door to door transportation. RIPTA coordinates both its ADA and statewide paraptransit services through its RIDE program. This program is one of the most highly coordinated and cost-effective paratransit services in the nation.
RIPTA subscribes fully and enthusiastically to ISTEA basic tenets: Flexibility, local decision making and linkage with the environment and community needs. If we are to continue providing these lifeline programs to one million Rhode Islanders, we must receive our fair share of federal funding.
In 1991, ISTEA authorized more than $155 billion nationwide over a six-year period. Rhode Island received more than $52 million from 1991-1996, allowing us to maintain service to its citizens. We urge you to maintain our current level of funding so we can continue to provide basic transportation services to one million Rhode Islanders. We ask you in this reauthorization to "hold us harmless" from any federal funding reductions.
The future of public transit in our state is at a critical juncture. We are desperately trying to avoid major service reductions and fare increases, while implementing much-needed services that will improve linkages between our public transit system and regional systems.
RIPTA: Proposals for the future
The reauthorization of ISTEA -- or ISTEA II -- will provide the lifeblood critically required to maintain services for one million Rhode Islanders. It will allow us to expand mobility opportunities for our elderly and disabled citizens, our low-income and welfare families and our children.
RIPTA is well poised to participate in programs that target these populations. We rank third in the nation in the number of residents 65 and older. As a next step in our paratransit service, RIPTA is looking to provide "seamless," integrated transit service statewide by fully coordinating traditional fixed route service using larger vehicles with the more flexible paratransit operations.
RIPTA looks to the future with a vision for coordinated statewide transportation services. The future for RIPTA could include:
Transit Community Centers: Establish satellite community centers at key locations across the state, which would include customer service enhancements, and which would be connected to RIPTA's central dispatch/communications center in Providence.
People mover: Link the Warwick rail station to the T.F. Green Airport
Interstate Transportation: Provide commuter and intercity rail facilities and services.
Increasing mobility in an older urban area: RIPTA can provide quality public transit in older urban areas by advancing innovative ideas and methods to include:
-Internet access to electronic schedules and route maps
-Security lighting, signage and schedule information improvements at street level
-Heated shelters in key locations
-Statewide electronic debit card for transportation services and fees
-Revised fare structures to promote transit when roadways are congested
- Multi-use community centers, including a full range of customer transit information services, private sector and non-for-profit development opportunities such as day care and health care facilities, senior centers, banking and postal services and convenience shopping.
Technology projects: Design and build a facility that incorporates the latest in bus facility design and maintenance equipment and technology, accommodates alternative fuel and provides opportunities for governmental mixed use.
Central RIPTA Communications Information Center: Establish a state-of-the-art Transit Community Center in Providence - the Authority's current central transit service hub - including RIPTA's central communications/dispatch and customer service center. This would blend the latest in information technology with the notion of livable community space that "works for people." Also, it will help position the transit system for the additional activity anticipated with the opening of the Providence Place Mall.
Balanced Transportation: The challenge for the next millennium
The reauthorization of ISTEA will provide Rhode Islanders with affordable and balanced transportation choices, increase economic productivity and improve the quality of life for all our citizens.
ISTEA's focus on increased mobility, reduced highway congestion and rebuilding a decaying infrastructure has created a new foundation for the future of this nation's transportation needs.
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 was a major advance in national transportation policy and must be reauthorized with a Rhode Island "hold harmless" provision in 1997. RIPTA is committed to the three basic principles for ISTEA reauthorization:
1.The federal government must retain its commitment to transportation: An efficient, balanced and sell-managed transportation system is vital to the well-being to Rhode Island and our citizens.
2.Maintain a strong local role in setting priorities: Transportation investment decisions affect communities in a host of ways, and local officials who are closely tied to community concerns must have a strong role in setting priorities and choosing projects.
3.ISTEA must continue to guide federal involvement in transportation: ISTEA made major progress in moving decision making closer to the people affected by transportation spending, in making federal money flexible and in addressing the impact of transportation on communities and the environment. We believe ISTEA must remain the blueprint for federal transportation policy when it is reauthorized in 1997.
In 1991 the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority served 13.4 million riders. In 1996 18.5 million riders chose RIPTA as their means of transportation. We attribute this remarkable 36 percent increase to ISTEA funding. ISTEA gave us the flexibility to create transit programs that work for Rhode Islanders.
Through ISTEA's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) and Flexible Funding, we developed successful transit programs such as:
Ozone Alert Days: A program that provides free bus transportation to commuters on days when the Ozone level is high as determined by the state Department of Environmental Management.
Revolving Capitol Development Fund: Established for the timely replacement of buses, an environmentally sound and cost-effective measure.
URI RamPass: A program that expanded service to the University of Rhode Island and residents of South County, RI.
1/2 Off Monthly Pass: A program providing free bus service to commuters during road construction projects.
Bus Bike Racks: Installation of bike racks on our buses to encourage residents to use alternative transportation choices.
Newport Summer Enhancement System: A program encouraging tourism -- one of Rhode Island's most important industries. RIPTA and the Newport community designed this program to provide seven-day-a-week transportation for tourists during the summer months.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I hope that my testimony today has clearly demonstrated the positive effects of ISTEA funding.
On behalf of Mary Ann, Joe and Ellie, and all Rhode Islanders, I urge you to recommend the reauthorization of ISTEA so we can continue to receive our fair share of federal funding.
The reauthorization of ISTEA will ensure a solid foundation for economic growth by moving people and goods efficiently through a comprehensive, integrated network in and among Rhode Island's rural, suburban and urban areas.