Proposal from Transit Authority Would Create New Public Restrooms and Retain Interior Facilities for Drivers
Scott Avedisian, Chief Executive Officer of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), and Nick DeCristofaro, President of Local 618 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), today responded to calls for the reopening of public restrooms in the transit building at Kennedy Plaza. They noted that the Authority is responsible for enforcing a current federal mandate requiring face coverings on its vehicles and properties.
One possible solution, Avedisian and DeCristofaro said, would be for RIPTA to create exterior public access to the existing restrooms and add employee-only lavatory space inside the building. This cannot be done without a long-term commitment to RIPTA from the City of Providence since it would require the use of federal funding reserved for transit purposes, they said. Instead, they noted, the City has indicated that it has other plans for Kennedy Plaza and has hired a consultant to look at other uses for the building and the surrounding property which RIPTA leases from the municipality.
“While there are some factual inaccuracies in the press release that was issued last Friday calling for RIPTA to reopen the restrooms, we want to assure people that our agency and our union employees have formulated a plan that would allow general public access to restrooms facilities in Kennedy Plaza ,” Avedisian and DeCristofaro said in a joint release. “However, we have been unable to implement the plan and the necessary structural changes to the building due to uncertainty about RIPTA’s future presence in Kennedy Plaza.”
“Our drivers need access to restroom facilities that allows them to keep on schedule and to not keep passengers waiting,” DeCristofaro said. “Creating driver-only restroom facilities in the building would be a great solution.”
RIPTA officials noted that since the start of the pandemic, the transit authority has twice installed portable lavatories at Kennedy Plaza only to have vandalism and other activity occur in the portable toilets. Two separate private companies have declined to replace or maintain the damaged lavatories. Avedisian and DeCristofaro said that RIPTA has asked for an improved police presence in the Plaza to help prevent any unsafe activities that may take place inside and outside the building. Increased policing would also help RIPTA enforce the current federal mandate which, consistent with guidance from the CDC, requires face coverings when using the nation’s transportation network. In April, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended its existing mask mandate through September 2021.
“By creating driver-only restrooms in the building, we could then alter the existing bathrooms to provide external access for use by the general public,” Avedisian said. “But that plan cannot move forward without a long-term commitment to stay in the building. Since the City has represented that they want RIPTA out of Kennedy Plaza and has hired consultants to look at the RIPTA building and suggest ways to re-purpose the building, we cannot commit resources to our solution to this issue.” He pointed out that Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulations stipulate that money invested in infrastructure must be related to transit operations, and if a facility is no longer serving transit, the funds must be repaid to the federal government.
Avedisian and DeCristofaro said they remain committed to continuing to work on a solution with the City and all interested partners. Until there is a path forward, DeCristofaro suggested that the restroom facilities at the City’s nearby skating facility be opened to the public and that RIPTA drivers continue to use the bathrooms in the Kennedy Plaza building.