NEW BRITAIN — It took six commuters 15 minutes Monday to voice their objections over the proposed bus and rail fare increases and service reductions.
The Department of Transportation public hearing was the first of a handful scheduled during a six-day period to address concerns over a 10 percent bus fare increase and 16.4 percent rail fare increase along with numerous reductions in both bus and rail service.
The fare increases and service reductions were part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s ‘Plan B’ budget announced last month after state employee unions failed to initially pass the $1.6 billion concession package, according to the DOT.
While the state employee unions approved the concessions package last week, DOT Administrator Michael Sanders said the agency plans to continue discussions on the fare increases and route reductions until it receives final word on state appropriations.
The fare increase would mean a local one-way bus ticket would increase from $1.25 to $1.35 for adults, and a 31-day monthly local bus pass would increase from $45 to $48.50.
The change in fare would increase bus service revenue by about $3 million and rail service revenue by about $13 million from rail service and the reductions would save an additional $4 million, according to Sanders.
“A fare increase or route reduction for buses is always unfortunate because there are a lot of people who need public transportation even on routes that are small . . . In my mind this should be lowest on the list of things to cut,” said Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, who attended the Monday’s public hearing. “What inspired me to get down to the hearing is the complete paradox on spending $600 million on one existing bus route, and then going out and cancelling routes and cutting fares.”
The majority of the six people who came to protest the changes in fare and service agreed with Markley.
Lydia Yost, a commuter from New Britain, said she does not want any of the proposed changes to the bus routes or increase in fares. She said the for many people on fixed incomes bus service is the only way to get around and if the fare increases go into effect commuters would have to part with more of their income.
Another commuter, Pat Johnson, a senior citizen from New Britain, agreed with the fare increase and hoped the DOT will keep the line that services downtown New Britain and the Berlin Turnpike, which was the only New Britain route reduction planned.
Markley added that he was concerned about the message DOT was sending about their ability to increase and retain passengers with all the proposed changes.
“Cutting back on services is self-defeating. If you want to build it up, build it up by maintaining routes and maintaining fares,” Markley said.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said last week that he wasn’t ruling anything out, but the cutback on services for Shoreline East is “widely regarded by all the transit professionals at DOT as counterproductive.”
“The best solution at Shore Line East is to increase ridership and to do that by maintaining appropriate service levels,” Barnes said Friday.
Despite the public concern, members from the DOT agreed a fare increase was necessary at this time based on factors including increased operating costs.
Transit system fares haven‘t been raised in six years.
“Remember, we don’t raise fares to make profit,” said Rick Gray, a DOT transportation planner. “We raise fares because fuel prices have gone up and the cost of state subsidies have gone up. The cost of providing the services have gone up so high so the subsidies have to come from somewhere, some comes from general taxes but some should come from user fees.”
According to the DOT, fares only pay for a portion of the operating costs, including 22 percent of CT Transit local and express bus transit, 69.5 percent of the New Haven Line rail service and 9.7 percent of the Shore Line East rail service.
While there is only one proposed route reduction for local service in New Britain, Sanders said the agency proposed a large cross section of service reductions between the bus and rail system including ending weekend service to Shore Line East.
The next public hearing will take place today in Stamford on the University of Connecticut Stamford Branch campus.
Click here for a schedule of the upcoming hearings and a list of route changes.