PROVIDENCE, R.I.(WPRI) - A team examining the finances at the cash-strapped Rhode Island Public Transit Authority halted a plan to paint a fleet of new buses over cost concerns, but not before 28 vans had already been rebranded.
RIPTA spokeswoman Laura Hart said it cost a little more than $7,000 a van, putting the taxpayer-footed bill at $200,000 to paint the new vans green and blue.
Embattled RIPTA CEO Charles Odimgbe ordered the new color scheme as part of an effort to rebrand the agency, according to Hart. But she said it appears he did not seek the approval of the agency's board of directors before ordering the paint job.
"Anything $50,000 and above must go to the board for approval," Hart said. "Does this rise to that level? You can make an argument that it does."
Hart – who has stepped in as spokeswoman while the quasi-public agency is under review – said the vans were ordered to replace aging vehicles. There are also 50 new buses that will soon be delivered and had been scheduled to be painted with the new colors, but that project was scrapped. The buses will be delivered to RIPTA their normal white color.
"There was concern from maintenance [that] if you get dings and dents, you're going to need special paint and it's going to raise costs," Hart said. "Right now the RIPTA fleet is done all with decals and it has a white base so it's a much easier fix."
Odimgbe was placed on paid administrative leave last month while a resource team headed-up by state police Lt. Col. Raymond Studley examines the agency's troubled finances.
Reached by phone, Odimgbe confirmed he did not consult the RIPTA board but said he had discussed the paint plans internally with his staff.
"A lot of people don't identify our small buses to RIPTA," Odimgbe said. "We wanted a unique approach to ease some of the confusion from our riders."
The 28 vans already painted will be on the road within the next month, according to a fleet manager at RIPTA. They are used as part of the "RIde" program that provides transportation to the disabled and elderly, as well as "flex" vans that cover smaller routes not on the main bus lines.
Odimgbe declined to weigh in on the decision to halt the process.
"I've been in this business long enough and my choices I believe are the right choices," he said. "But I'm not going to second guess their decision."
Hart said a review of RIPTA board minutes revealed there was some discussion in 2010 about rebranding the agency in general, but nothing specific to spending money on painting the fleet or to the colors chosen.
Odimgbe said he hired a consultant to come up with the new colors.
Hart said records show RIPTA paid the consultant $600 for the recommendation.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian who is also chairman of the board for RIPTA, said they were never consulted about the paint plan.
"The policy is certain things have to go to the board and that obviously did not happen in this case," Avedisian said. "I'm hopeful with Ray Studley's review of RIPTA operations we will have our whole action plan."
Avedisian had not seen the new green and dark blue color scheme until WPRI sent him pictures.
"To me, I don't care what color they are painted," Avedisian said. "I want them to be effective, efficient and full of people."
Copyright WPRI 12