Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

RIPTA riders rally to bring back free fare

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of people who ride on Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses gathered outside the State House Wednesday afternoon to protest a recent change in fares.

Seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income riders previously rode the bus for free, but RIPTA increased the price to 50 cents on February 1. The price is still less than the standard $2 bus fare.

“I’m paying between $5 and $7 a day,” said Ruth Madson, who lives in Providence and uses the bus to get everywhere. “Doctor’s appointments, medical appointments, to the store to go shopping, to see my family.”

“People are having trouble getting to places like church services, the grocery store, court, probation,” said Brian Vanmourkerque, another RIPTA rider. Several people brought up the probation issue, saying it’s been difficult to get to required appointments – and not showing up could send them back to jail.

“Senior citizens and disabled people, we have to take care of those people,” said state Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, who attended the rally. He said RIPTA should be able to find the money those fares bring in somewhere else in the budget.

A spokesperson for RIPTA, Barbara Polichetti, said the new program is estimated to bring in upwards of $3.5 million annually, although she said that estimate is approximate since the program is new. She also said RIPTA expects to lose riders because of the fare change.

“RIPTA understands that this is financially vulnerable population and we are sensitive to the needs of these customers,” Polichetti said in an email. “However, for more than 40 years, RIPTA bore almost all the costs of providing free transportation for low-income seniors and persons with disabilities and that model is no longer sustainable for the transit authority.”

The $3.5 million revenue estimate includes an estimated $1.4 million directly from the fare box, and the rest from Medicaid-covered transportation for medical trips. Medicaid recipients are eligible for free transportation to a long list of non-emergency services, and RIPTA gets reimbursed for those fares. But when bus fares were free, Polichetti said there was no way to track who was using the service for medical trips, and therefore RIPTA was not paid through the Medicaid program.

“The challenge is to find ways to provide needed transportation benefits without doing so at the cost of a healthy public transit system capable of meeting the needs of all Rhode Islanders,” Polichetti said.

Still, some riders said they simply can not weather the change.

“I’m trying to fight to drop the 50 cents,” said Felicia Accioli, who identified herself as disabled. “I’m on a fixed income. I don’t have money to take the bus.”

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Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

RIPTA, state police: Bus involved in crash in full working order

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Both RIPTA and the Rhode Island State Police have inspected a bus involved in a serious crash Monday night, and both agencies said the vehicle is in full working order.

Nine people were sent to the hospital after the bus full of passengers barreled into a bus shelter on Waterman Street in Providence just before 6 p.m. Monday.

The 2011 bus was towed from the scene around midnight. Pieces of debris, including large pieces of glass were collected and placed onto the bus. The bus sustained significant damage. The windshield is gone and there is damage to the front passenger corner.

According to police, the bus driver – identified in a police crash report as Andre Blemur – told investigators he stepped on the brake to stop at the bus stop, but instead, the bus accelerated.

RIPTA spokeswoman Barbara Polichetti said the agency inspected the bus Tuesday and found nothing wrong.

“As we continue our investigation into the accident of May 9, 2016, RIPTA has completed a review of the bus and our preliminary findings are that the vehicle was in full working order,” she explained. “No mechanical problems were found with any of the systems – including the braking system.”

Later on Tuesday, state police completed their inspection and said the brakes appeared to be in “proper working condition,” according to Providence police.

Polichetti said the vehicle was last inspected by the DMV on Dec. 15, 2015.

RIPTA said Blemur has been with the agency for 13 months and hasn’t had any major issues. He was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Police have seized his cell phone as part of their investigation and issued him two citations.

Polichetti said whatever the outcome of the investigation, RIPTA’s board will work to make any necessary changes to its procedures.

This isn’t the first serious incident involving a RIPTA bus. There were five others over the past 12 months. One of those happening in Warwick, where a bus crashed into a store on Post Road.

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Local News, News, West Bay

Business hit by RIPTA bus waits in legal limbo

[anvplayer video=”925095″ /] WARWICK, R.I (WPRI) — It has been four months since an auto parts store in Warwick was destroyed by an out of control RIPTA bus.

Manuel Rosario, who owns The Driver’s Seat, has been left wondering if he’ll ever be able to re-open his business, or recoup the costs of the merchandise he had inside.

He was inside the building, which he shared with a paintball facility, when the bus came crashing in. The impact destroyed three cars in his showroom, and countless car parts he had in stock.

“There was over 40 thousand dollars worth of merchandise,” Rosario said. He purchased the business just four months before the crash.

“Then a bus hit it, and destroyed everything,” he said, revisiting the scene with Eyewitness News on Wednesday. There’s a fence around the building, and the roof is collapsed on top of where Rosario’s business once was. He hasn’t been able to see the extent of the damage inside.

Rosario’s attorney Michael Lombardi told Eyewitness News Rosario rented the space in the building, and did not have renter’s insurance. His only recourse is through RIPTA, which is self-insured. Lombardi filed a claim with the transit agency for the damaged cars and merchandise. He says RIPTA sent out an insurance adjuster to take a look at the damage, but Rosario has yet to see a payment from RIPTA.

A spokesperson for RIPTA declined to comment, citing pending legal claims.

On Thursday, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who is the Chairman of the RIPTA Board of Directors, sent Eyewitness News the following statement:

We are carefully investigating and evaluating Mr. Rosario’s claim.

We will respond to it as soon as that process is complete. However, because this claim could possibly lead to legal action we cannot comment further.

“It’s just been a waiting game,” Rosario said.

Rosario’s lawyer says RIPTA is “stonewalling” the small business owner, and refuses to take responsibility for the crash. At the time of the accident, investigators said it appeared the driver had a medical emergency.

If RIPTA does not pay the claim soon, Lombardi said he’ll file a lawsuit against the agency.

Meanwhile, Rosario has been a stay-at-home-dad to his 8-month-old daughter. His family is being supported by only his wife’s income.

When asked if he thought he would ever be able to open his business again, Rosario didn’t know.

“I hope,” he said. “I pray.”