The Statehouse is considering a number of funding measures around transportation, and contributor Barry Schiller of the Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC) has some thoughts. Barry has also served in the past on the board of RIPTA, and is a frequent contributor to Greater City Providence. We've recommended that the mayoral candidates take seriously many of his other ideas, including a car-free Kennedy Plaza and parking reform.
The current direction the state seems to be going is away from tolls on bridges and instead towards "free" crossing on them--in reality a subsidy to cars. Some transit enthusiasts have been excited by small improvements in the RIPTA budget allocations, but alongside continued subsidies to cars, and with those changes to the budget being really small, they're not really as great as projected. Barry also points out that the budget allocations don't take into account a lot of factors in operational cost that need to be accounted for in order to make RIPTA solvent, and help it expand.
Barry's thoughts below.
With the Senate Finance Committee taking up the budget Monday and our Ripta Riders meeting Tuesday we should try to understand what the tentative budget means for RIPTA. I finally got a copy of the budget passed by the House Finance Committee. I'm unaware of any changes on transportation issues when the House passed the budget Thursday evening.
I'll note again Article 21 of the budget sets up a "RI Highway Maintenance Account" funded from various fees, some of it growing over time, and starting July 1, 2015 it allocates 5% of this to RIPTA for operating expenses. That would be new revenue.
In dollars, the Coalition for Transportation choices indicated this is what RIPTA would get from this highway maintenance account is indicated below.
The CTC also got a copy of Ripta's projected operating deficits, assuming no change in service and none fo the additional revenue from the budget, where they make reasonable assumptions of labor cost increases, fuel cost, inflation, gas tax revenues and such. They assume no further help in debt service reduction. There is also the question of "OPEB" (Other post employment benefits, presumably mostly health care) which if included in the budget, the deficit is also included below. I could find nothing in the budget that gives Ripta anything from gas tax increases, a 1 cent increase is anticipated for July 1, 2015- (which has gotten some anti-tax zealots to fulminate!) However, 3.5 cents of the gas tax is to be diverted to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority to maintain their four bridges without Sakonnet tolls.
Fiscal year Projected additional Ripta estimated deficit Deficit if OPEB included
2015 $0 $2.6 million $8.6 million
2016 $2.5 million $6.9 million $12.3 million
2017 $3.8 million $ 8.9 million $13.6 million
2018 $4.4 million $11.4 million $15.5 million
2019 $4.4 million $13.9 million $17.2 million
The deficit would grow to about $16.2 million in FY 2019 (19.7 million with OPEB) if the additional hubs were to be built and operated.
While it is a great triumph to get any additional revenue for RIPTA in this budget climate, it seems clear the amount is far from adequate to maintain service, nevermind grow it, and we'll have to be back to the Assembly for another fight, without the leverage of the tolls to help get some to the table.