RIPTA gets wheels turning for new downtown bus hub
Gov. Dan McKee announced Jan. 13 plans for a new bus hub in downtown Providence. According to the press release, the hub will replace Kennedy Plaza as the city’s primary bus depot and will be located at the intersection of Dorrance and Dyer Streets, just outside the Jewelry District.
The announcement was followed by a call for proposals, published Jan. 17, that solicited bids from private developers to work with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to build the new center over the next few years. The RFP was published by RIPTA and outlines the goals of the project.
“We don’t want it to be just a transit hub,” said Scott Avedisian, CEO of RIPTA. “We want more than that, so we listened to all our drivers.”
Current plans describe the hub as a “mixed-use” development that will include transit, retail, RIPTA administrative offices and residential.
“There will be affordable housing. There will be restrooms, an indoor waiting area… and a place for some sort of police presence. That’s lacking at the moment,” Avedisian said. “We envision nothing less than a world-class transit center.”
Avedisian also cited the possibility of lockers, bike racks, charging stations for electronics, and retail locations like a coffee shop.
Proposals for the new transit center are due April 17, by which time RIPTA will have a better idea of the timeline for the project, according to Avedisian. Funding for the project is ongoing, but Avedisian said RIPTA has applied to rebuild America’s infrastructure with federal government sustainability and equity grants, winners of which will be announced in June.
Barry Schiller, co-founder of Rhode Island Transit Riders — an organization dedicated to improving and expanding public transit — expressed several concerns about the location and motivation for the new center.
“Kennedy Plaza is near more attractions for people coming downtown,” like City Hall and the Providence Place mall, Schiller said. “What is nearby Dorrance Street that will draw people in?”
Schiller described that one reason for moving the hub might be that some stakeholders near the plaza may “don’t want the buses and mostly low-income passengers right in front of their property.”
Avedisian said he believes the new location represents a compromise between different interests.
“I think there are always competing interests. And we tried to balance them all,” Avedisian said. “If we look at where the growth is happening in the city, it’s all happening in the Jewelry District and the Innovation District.” Avedisian noted that the new center is still close to downtown, and for those close to Kennedy Plaza and the remains accessible to local colleges.
Schiller stated that Rhode Island Transit Riders isn’t entirely opposed to the new hub and that the new location has the potential to be “happier” and “more hospitable” than Kennedy Plaza is now. He added that the organization would like the public to be involved in the implementation and design process of the new terminal.
Speaking at Kennedy Plaza, frequent bus driver Queen Latifah Taylor said she wanted more facilities and security in a new hub.
“With the viruses we’re dealing with, we don’t want to just all be lumped together and locked in,” Taylor said. “We want to have some space and with this expansion we want more bathrooms.”
She explained that she doesn’t always feel safe at Kennedy Plaza. “I have to look around (and) hold my purse,” Taylor said, saying she hopes security cameras could be included in the new location.
Driver Zizi Spangler added that she would like improved cleanliness at a new facility. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s on the floor and it’s not really being picked up,” Spangler said in reference to Kennedy Plaza.
Advocates like John Flaherty, associate director of Grow Smart RI, an organization focused on sustainable economic development, hope the new facility will offer improvements over the Kennedy Plaza.
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Flaherty said he believes the Providence train station and airport currently have nicer facilities than Kennedy Plaza and expressed excitement at the possibility of a better hub for bus drivers.
“When it comes to bus travelers, they’ve always lost out,” Flaherty said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be a big step forward for Rhode Island transit.”
In particular, he expressed hope that the new center would be able to “integrate some services that are badly needed to help people.” For Flaherty, the project is “a way to actually be more proactive” and make resources available to those who need them, he said.
Avedisian said the hub will continue to serve many routes even after the new center is developed. “You can still get on the bus… and you can still get off the bus” at Kennedy Plaza, he said, explaining that service to the square will be roughly halved once the new center is complete.
Avedisian was hopeful about the centre’s later inclusion. “I think we’re going to show people that we’ve been listening and that we understand what they want.”