Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sierra Club Calls for Rhode Island Transportation Overhaul

Today's Providence Business News published an interesting article about the Sierra Club of Rhode Island calling for the state of Rhode Island to increase their investment in public transportation.
“Rhode Island must aggressively commit to long-term transit investment, starting now,” said the report prepared by the Sierra Club’s Rhode Island Chapter. “Not only in maintenance and enhancement of the current system, but also towards expansion – including into other modes, such as light commuter rail, bus rapid transit (buses operated like in-city rail, with limited fixed stops along dedicated lanes) and auxiliary services such as subsidized commuter vanpools.”

The article noted that over the last five years public transit ridership in Rhode Island has increased at a rate of about 10% per year. I know, first hand, that a number of my coworkers at one of my former employers gradually moved from driving to work to taking RIPTA. This was due to the first wave of gas increases in 2004. Commuting by bus saved them money on gas and parking. Parking in downtown Providence, surprisingly, costs a small fortune (compared to other similar mid-sized cities).

Similar to other states, expanding and improving RIPTA has been stalled due to funding issues. RIPTA receives 7.25 cents for every gallon of gasoline sold at retail in RI.
“When the cost of gas goes up, RIPTA does not get any more money as a result of the increase in price,” the report said. “In fact, rising gas costs typically reduce gas sales. So when people drive less, RIPTA loses the extra money needed to pick up the slack – while at the same time paying more itself for fuel.”

Instead, the report suggested, the gasoline tax should be indexed to inflation or the price of fuel and tolls should be added to state highways, with a portion of the revenue diverted to RIPTA. It also listed other possible sources of funding, including employer taxes; parking excises; parking taxes; sales taxes; motor vehicle fees; real-estate transaction and subdivision taxes; and private sponsorship.

RIPTA’s capital funding should also be ramped up, using tax-increment financing (TIF), developer support and federal dollars, the report suggested.

Rhode Island's population growth has really spread out over the past 10 to 15 years. If you are ever in South County take note of the carpool lots scattered off of the state highways. This is a good thing, as RI's traffic congestion has increased.

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