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RI TRANSPORTATION

RIPTA reduces service amid ‘unprecedented labor shortage’

RIPTA says the service reductions are temporary and riders should see fewer canceled trips because service will be “truer to schedule.” The drivers union says RIPTA added service without adding enough employees.

A RIPTA bus in Kennedy Plaza in Providence.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — RIPTA will temporarily reduce bus frequency on a number of lines to deal with what it calls an “unprecedented labor shortage,” the authority announced Thursday.

The reductions will go into effect Oct. 22, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority said. The reductions will take place on Routes 17, 19, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 31, 50, 51, 54, 55, 56, 57, 60, 63, 65X, 67, 72, 87, and 92.

Early morning, night, weekend and holiday service won’t be affected, RIPTA said. Riders should encounter fewer canceled trips — a major problem right now, even for schoolchildren — because the agency will run service “truer to schedule,” RIPTA said.

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“RIPTA is facing fierce competition from higher-paying private-sector companies for commercial drivers,” Scott Avedisian, RIPTA’s CEO, said in a news release. “As a result, this is causing a disruption for our customers in daily fixed-route bus service.”

The authority is negotiating with the Amalgamated Transit Union Division 618 on hourly pay increases for van operators.

RIPTA described the reductions as temporary, but did not give a date for when the current level of service would go back into effect — only “as soon as manpower permits.” RIPTA is not eliminating any routes. RIPTA makes service adjustments three times a year in response to passenger use or seasonal changes, but said that this round of reductions is “directly related to the agency’s struggle to competitively recruit new drivers in the current marketplace.”

Along with the service reductions. RIPTA is also making trip time adjustments on Routes 13, 29, and 67; adding a trip time to Route 54; and Route 92 will now serve Governor Apartments, the agency said. RIPTA urged people to check the new schedules to see how they might be affected.

Steven Sousa, the secretary-treasurer of the ATU Division 618, said the problem at the agency is broader than the worker shortage that transportation providers and employers around the country are facing.

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“When it comes across as a driver shortage specific to RIPTA, people are thinking these guys aren’t coming to work. That’s not the case,” Sousa said. “We want the people responsible to assume responsibility for it.”

In Sousa’s opinion, management is responsible: RIPTA bit off more than it could chew, adding service without adding enough employees to accommodate it, he said. Poor performance and now reductions in frequency are the inevitable result — which will be bad for both riders and drivers, Sousa said.

“It’s a big problem,” Sousa said.

Advocates for transit improvements signaled concern about the reductions.

“It’s very concerning to see transit service reductions at a time when it should be increasing and expanding to close transportation equity gaps across Rhode Island and to attract new riders as an important climate action strategy,” John Flaherty, deputy director of Grow Smart RI, said in an email. “The state has a published and adopted vision and master plan to achieve this — our leaders need to prioritize solutions for effectively dealing with the current labor shortage and get on with implementing this plan that we know is so vital to the well-being of our residents, our economy and our planet.”

This story has been updated with comments from Grow Smart RI and the ATU.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.