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12.1.15 Transit forum draws crowd, electeds and ideas for improving mass transit in Rhode Island

Governor, Speaker, Senate President and several legislators, mayors, business leaders and advocates pack convention center for forum about leveraging mass transit for economic and community development

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Saying Rhode Island needs a mass transit system that takes people where they need to go, when they need to go, safely and affordably, local and national experts today offered ideas and solutions for improvements at a major forum at the R.I. Convention Center, Next Stop: Making Mass Transit Work for More Rhode Islanders.

The forum also focused on the need for increased funding for the R.I. Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), which has been a longtime challenge. Speakers pointed out the opportunities for the state to move toward a fuller and more efficient mass transit system, such as Rhode Islanders’ approval of a $35 million dollar bond to transform the Providence train station into a multi-modal transit hub, as well as the growing number of Millennial generation members who prefer mass transit as a way to get to work and school. They also linked vibrant mass transit to future economic health.

“A user-friendly transit system is an essential ingredient to all vibrant economies and we’ve got an opportunity to have one of the best right here in Rhode Island.” said John Flaherty, co-chair of the Coalition for Transportation Choices, which sponsored the forum. “Rhode Island is small and the second most urbanized state in the U.S., which makes it ideal for providing efficient public transit. Nearly 80 percent of the state’s population lives within a 10-minute walk of a transit stop. Still, less than three percent of the state’s population uses transit regularly. It’s something of a ‘chicken or egg’ conundrum since service must first be robust, convenient and frequent enough to attract would-be riders.”

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Governor Gina Raimondo addressing participants in NEXT STOP: Making Transit Work for Rhode Island

Rhode Island political leaders Governor Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed all spoke in support of enhancing the state’s public transit system as a legislative priority. Concepts and possible solutions discussed at the forum will help to inform a detailed 10-year investment proposal to be submitted by RIPTA in early 2016 as part of the state’s long range Transportation Improvement Plan.

“The Rhode Island public really wants these positive changes to happen,” said Flaherty. “In 2014, voters strongly approved the state’s first-ever transit bond, authorizing $35 million for transit hub improvements. And the General Assembly has adopted new incentives and tools that encourage transit-oriented real estate development. ”

Transit officials from states where progress is rapidly being made in public transit, in Hartford, Denver and Minneapolis, also gave presentations at the forum. Their messages about their success directly relate to Rhode Island’s current situation and its transit priorities, as the guest speakers pointed to their achievements in Hartford boosting ridership; involving the Minneapolis business community as champions of funding and system expansion and implementing changes that benefit the public; and how a working multi-modal transit hub in Denver was developed, offering ideas to Rhode Island as work begins in earnest on the Providence train station location.

A panel of local leaders addressed and examined the challenges and opportunities for making a comprehensive transit system work well and affordably in Rhode Island. These included steps to save time and money for commuters, to contribute to the revitalization of urban and town centers, and to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Coalition for Transportation Choices is a 49-member organization that calls for a 21st century transportation system that enhances Rhode Island’s economy and provides everyone with healthy transportation choices. Promotional partners for the Next Stop: Making Mass Transit Work for More Rhode Islanders forum were the RI Chapter of the American Planning Association; NE Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism; and RI Chapter of Women in Transportation.

For more information, go to the CTC website at: