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Letter: RIPTA Is the Battleground Where We Must Fight

Public transit is the service where those who care about the forgotten, underserved and disenfranchised in this society must not back down.

I am tempted to cite statistics that prove the value of public transportation to economic development; to give worker- and student-ridership percentages and the savings those riders realize by taking the bus; to present statistics on how ridership has gone up in recent years despite fare increases, to point out that we will never adequately reduce carbon emissions without robust public-transit systems; to elaborate the health benefits associated with the more active lifestyle of a transit rider and the improved air quality of communities with less congested roadways; et cetera.

In a more rational world, these convincing arguments would already have persuaded state leaders to expand Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) service, but there is a more powerful reason to help RIPTA, one suited to our more irrational times. Justifying public transportation service is part of a larger debate about the legitimacy of any and all government services.

Thirty years of the general policy of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of banks and many other corporations, and cuts to public services for citizens has created a seriously unbalanced situation. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the policies that perpetuate it are shameful. They are antithetical to the Christian values that many of us claim as guiding principles and to the simple secular value of treating others as we would be treated.

Meanwhile, the government has been starved of the revenue it needs to secure a basic standard of living for its people, just as the ranks of those people who need assistance have been pushed to an epic scale (15 million-plus jobless, 46 million U.S. citizens living in poverty, 45 million on food stamps).

Here we are. It’s a delicate moment in our nation’s history when this lack of balance threatens to deliver us into a second Great Depression. For rich and poor alike the atmosphere is full of fear, uncertainty, distrust and anger. We are justifiably hesitant to do anything but hide our heads in the sand.

The dominant modern narrative holds that the government is broke, the people are broke and we can’t afford to provide any social-safety net any longer. Subsidizing our failed financial industry and other mega-corporations while sacrifices are demanded from the people are the prescriptions of the day, doubling down on the policies that brought us here. Following this narrative is dangerously irresponsible.

Contrary to the myth, the truth is that the U.S. economy is bigger than it has ever been. The gross domestic product is more than $14 trillion. As a country we have never been richer, but that money is more and more concentrated in the hands of a small privileged group. Does it really make sense to coddle them and cut services for the rest of us? Since our economy is so dependent on consumer spending, doesn’t it make sense both morally and economically to give help where it is needed?

Thus, I present to you public transit as the service where those who care about the forgotten, underserved and disenfranchised in this society must not back down. RIPTA is the battleground where we need to stop appeasing the bullies and start pushing back and arguing for expanding public services.

Public transportation is the pivotal issue, because of all those rational temptations listed at the beginning of this essay. RIPTA provides a public service critical to social and economic justice, while it is also an engine for business, and vital to the interests of the environmental and health-services communities, not to mention for people who just want to save a buck by leaving the car at home.

To be brief, public transit is where we stand and fight, because it is where we can win. Winning will boost the morale of the compassionate majority and restore some faith in fairness. At the same time it will demonstrate that investing in a public service is good for everybody. Furthermore, winning will give us momentum for whatever cause comes next, and there are many waiting.

Unless Congress and the Rhode Island General Assembly take action to provide adequate and sustainable funding for public transit, RIPTA will face massive service cuts next summer that will make this year’s 10 percent proposed reductions seem small. We have six months to stop that from happening, and we must start now. The first step is to go to your nearest computer and type “save ripta petition” into your favorite search engine. The least you can do is put your name on it.

If you want to do more than that, get in touch with your local senator and representative and let him or her know you care. Those who don’t listen can always be voted out.

Abel Collins is program manager of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club and a member of the RIPTA Riders, an independent grassroots group working to preserve and expand public transportation in Rhode Island.

Island Porkrunner October 03, 2011 at 04:04 PM
I rode RIPTA all the way from Portsmouth to Pawtucket and back yesterday. I got to read 2 magazines and enjoy myself instead of worrying about driving and parking in a strange city. I waited less than 10 minutes for the bus outgoing and then 40 minutes returning - enough time to catch the end of the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys game. There are very few people I see that ride RIPTA as a choice and it's a real shame. I would vote for a heavier mileage tax on personal, non-commercial vehicles to help subsidize RIPTA. It's something our culture needs to embrace in order to live in balance with our cities and to protect our well-being.
Mark Gray October 03, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I lived in the Atlanta area for little over six years and moved back early this year. I used to brag to my friends down south about the excellent transit system we had--how I could get just about anywhere I wanted to go in the entire state on a RIPTA bus. Then I come back to find reduced service and ridiculous fares--$2 versus the $1.25 I remembered. It saddened me greatly to find my native Rhode Island slipping backwards in a time when we must move forward toward a more sustainable society and economy. So I am standing up to SAVE RIPTA. Ladies and Gentlemen of the General Assembly, I hope that you all do the same.
Joe Sousa. October 03, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Privatize RIPTA , and put the gas tax back in to DOT road maintenance. Rhode Island's Bridges are falling down. Our highways are pot holes and frost heaves. The RI legislature has mismanaged the state budget for far to long.
Tivie October 03, 2011 at 09:59 PM
"Thirty years of the general policy of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of banks and many other corporations, and cuts to public services for citizens has created a seriously unbalanced situation. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the policies that perpetuate it are shameful. They are antithetical to the Christian values that many of us claim as guiding principles and to the simple secular value of treating others as we would be treated." Amen. When I got my first job I couldn't afford a car for a while - student loans and rent took most of my paycheck! So I took the RIPTA bus. This was many years ago, but I am still grateful. There are a lot of struggling young people who can't afford gas money, but need to get to their jobs. Cutting at the bottom because there's "no money" is short-sighted and immoral. There's money - just look at the statistics about how the top 1% have increased their income, while the rest of Americans peddle faster to get behind. These stories - from regular people hurt in this economy - will break your heart: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/
Joe Sousa. October 04, 2011 at 01:29 AM
"Thirty years of the general policy of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of banks and many other corporations, Congress and the President caused these problems.Give credit where credit is due No free ride
Scott Boyd October 04, 2011 at 01:46 AM
The bus is outmoded. We need PRT, and we need to contract out the operation of any public transit system. We can state the requirements, then let the free market provide the service at the lowest cost. Cry me a river about them rich people. Maybe if your Govt got out of your way you might actually come up with a novel idea and go make a million or two for yourself. Oh sorry, all we have left is "do you want fries with that?" jobs. If we don't sell it to someone outside the USA, then there is no net gain in wealth, anything else is just passing the same dollar around and around. Those evil rich guys took all the manufacturing overseas for a reason. Either we get the Govt out of our business or we go with the Chinese model, supreme leaders tell us all what is in our best interests. So you prefer inept elected officials dictating your future to shrewd calculating rich guys???? How many dumb rich guys do you know????
Mark Gray October 04, 2011 at 01:53 AM
I agree. Thirty years' worth of Congresses and Presidents caused these problems.
Joe Sousa. October 04, 2011 at 02:02 AM
"Thirty years of the general policy of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of banks and many other corporations, Congress and the President caused these problems.Give credit where credit is due No free ride....
Mark Gray October 04, 2011 at 02:08 AM
Dumb rich guys? Well one comes to mind right away: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d4/George-W-Bush.jpeg/453px-George-W-Bush.jpeg But gimme a minute I am pretty sure I can come up with a few more. Then again, you may be of the opinion that being rich automatically makes you "smart." I guess because if a person has all that money, they must be doing something right, eh? This leaves out the class of people who just happen to have been incredibly lucky--born into the right family, etc. Kim Kardashian, or a lottery winner. The phrase "dumb luck" naturally comes to mind.
franny glass October 04, 2011 at 10:44 AM
Ask any waiter/waitress in a high-end restaurant how many morons he/she serves on a daily basis. Rich equals smart, forsooth. Many wealthy people are wealthy because of inheritance, and many people got rich simply because when it came time to make a choice between doing the right thing or making a profit, they chose the latter.
faithful reader October 04, 2011 at 12:14 PM
I remember a time when working for the town or state was a considered a good and honorable middle class job. Town politics was about making your town better. Then there came a subtle shift, Town jobs became "political appointments" or a "family affair" where those in the job didn't have to so much work as just wait for their retirement. Then some bright (greedy) politition somewhere took that idea one step further, why not take that nice state job and make it a money making business for someone in my "family". The birth of privitization. Great for businessmen, bad for towns & employees. Once the town's infrastructure was gone, they became slaves to these businesses & those jobs which were respectible middle class jobs, became minimum wage, those no benefit "do you want fries with that?" jobs. When I was a kid, I knew my trashman's name... I have a friend who has made a lot of money designing theinteriors of a local "trash mogul" and his children's homes. That mogul bought land from a politician friend, turned it into a dump and started a privatized business and eventually sold it to an even larger "trash man". So now towns can pay their bills & the "trashmen" live in mansions? tcha!
pferd October 04, 2011 at 02:25 PM
are you people for real?????? this clown in the white house is driving the bus deeper into the ditch. together with the sierra morons. they want clean air, but not windmills, they want clean air, but don't want to pay for it. ask one of the green monkeys to give up their clothing or their computers and they won't - guess what oil does not just go into cars, it is in everything. try to replace your plastic clothing and household and picture it without oil and you would be living in the woods and be nude. if these clowns (the green guys) had not pushed our industries to china we would have higher employment and in the long run less pollution, because our companies could have afforded to install pollution junk and we would not have ship spewing diesel fuel into to the air crossing the oceans between china and the usa. but it was never the green peoples nor was it the intention of the moron al gore to clean the air, but to assist socialist countries to prosper and then try to tell americans that their socialistic way is the right thing to do. warming trends and cooling trends have occurred for thousands of years. think - why do you think the ice age went away even before BC, because their was global warming and then the pendulum will swing back. also the morons who want to protect every animal from distinction know well that many species died before and the earth kept rotating, although they want you to believe that if the spotted disappears the world will stop rotating.
pferd October 04, 2011 at 02:39 PM
the earth existed before theses mediocre brains came along and will continue to be around long after these self-serving clowns be in the ground. the earth will stop when it is ready to and not sooner or later. who determined that people have a right to public transportation?????? maybe i think i should have a staff of 50 and am entitled to it, what then??? this moron in the white house does not have a clue what it is to live a middle class life. the struggles and victories. some of us work hard to get what we need and want, as opposed to the white house moron who got his degree through affirmative action. by the way who determines who should be entitled to affirmative action????????? it must be one of those rich guys that has been supporting obama. oh i forgot, maybe he is getting some of the money back he gave to solendra, 500 million that it cost us. it would have been put to better use if we could have used it for ripta. or how about selling 2000 guns to mexicans? was that so they could kill each other or they could kill the border agents - which has happened already. i can not believe that anyone still has faith in this moron in the white house. you want to demonstrate - do it against this idiot in the white house.
Average Joe October 04, 2011 at 02:55 PM
franny, Your statement "and many people got rich simply because when it came time to make a choice between doing the right thing or making a profit, they chose the latter." is very interesting. So you are basically saying that making a profit is the wrong thing to do? So why open a business??? As much as you may hate it, without business we have nothing (no jobs, no tax revenue, no nothing). Good heavens if someone actually takes a risk, opens a business, makes a profit, and OH MY GOD, may become wealthy in the process. How dare they!!!!
Island Porkrunner October 04, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Mark, I also lived in Atlanta for 4 years and would only travel MARTA during daytime. RIPTA is astonishingly better. In Memphis, forget about taking the bus anywhere. $2 is still a great deal when you can travel across the entire state on a single ride, and you can get the price closer to $1 if you buy a multiple-ride card.
franny glass October 05, 2011 at 10:21 AM
Joe, i did not say it's wrong to make a profit. i *did* say that in many cases, when there is a choice to make between money and morality, money wins out in an inordinate percentage of those situations. As it happens, I run a business, it's in the black, and I've never cheated my customers, my suppliers, or the tax man. If *you* run a business, you know darn well that those choices have to be made every day. I can't even count how many ostensibly legit business people have bragged to me over cocktails about the various ways they've cheated to make an extra buck. They think it's a smart business decision. These people aren't smart... they simply have no morals.
Scott Boyd October 05, 2011 at 04:09 PM
Mark, I'm with you on there are examples of dumb rich guys, but I would say there are few examples of dumb rich guys who remain rich. The celebrity and lottery winners are perfect examples. Once the fame is gone or all your friends have sucked you dry, you're as broke as the dumb guy. Even folks who appear dumb must actually be quite intelligent to hold on to their acquired wealth, Patrick Kennedy comes to mind, I think he's an idiot but the fact that he's not broke and destitute would indicate he actually has a modicum of intelligence. Even if it is just to pay someone to look out for him.
Math Major October 05, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Are these routes that are full and being dropped, or routes with not many riders? Even though the state doesn't act like they realize it (by giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens) there simply is no money. You can "tax the rich" but eventually, you run out of their money. Who exactly is "rich" anyway? There is no tax on wealth, but on income. At what percentage is it simply not fair to confiscate someones earnings? 40%, 50%? More? Why should anyone have to pay more than half of what they earn to the government? I say, tax everyone at 10% with the only deduction being a $40,000 deduction everyone gets.
Average Joe October 05, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Math Major, Logical thinking does not belong in this discussion. You need to leave.

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