RI lawmaker wants to ban RIPTA buses from ‘talking’ in residential neighborhoods

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) – A state lawmaker is taking action after fielding mounting complaints from her constituents that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s “talking” buses are driving them crazy.

Last year, RIPTA equipped its buses with a so-called “Safe Turn Alert” system that warns pedestrians and motorists with a recorded announcement saying, “Caution! The bus is turning!”

On Wednesday, however, state Rep. Lauren Carson filed a bill that would ban the recordings from playing in residential areas. She said she’s been receiving complaints from voters in her Newport district for months, about both the volume of the alerts and also about them starting before 5 a.m.

“We have to really do something about this,” Carson, D-Newport, told Eyewitness News. “It really is inconvenient for people. They can’t live like this.” She said the complaints have been particularly numerous from residents who live near the city’s Gateway Center transportation hub on America’s Cup Avenue.

A message was left with RIPTA seeking the agency’s response to Carson’s bill.

Carson said she met with RIPTA officials last July and they were “very nice,” but they indicated the issue was “very complicated” and left her with the impression nothing would be done. The complaints from her constituents continued, though, which led her to file the legislation.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare. “I don’t really expect it to pass, but I think it’s a way that I can really up the ante on the conversation and raise the profile,” Carson said.

RIPTA spent roughly $400,000 to buy the alert system from Protran Technology, a New Jersey company. Its board approved the initiative in the fall of 2016.

RIPTA officials have argued the alerts are an important safety precaution. “I’m not an expert on safety issues,” Carson acknowledged. “What other options are there for safety? I don’t know what they are – that would be part of the conversation.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.