Gas taxes are going up again this July, and so once again I thought, briefly, about finding some other way to get around besides driving my car. I live and work smack in the middle of a busy, densely-populated valley stretching from Northampton to New Haven, so you would think that I would have several good transit options for getting to work. You’d be wrong.
To cover the short distance between Enfield and Springfield, I could try a few things. The state line makes things needlessly complicated, but the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) in Massachusetts helpfully runs a bus to MassMutual in Enfield. So I could access the Springfield bus system there. Unfortunately, it’s about five miles from my house. The town’s new fixed-route bus system doesn’t go there, but a single CT Transit bus runs from the Park and Ride about a mile from my house to MassMutual.
So I could leave my house at 7:20 a.m. or so to catch a 7:37 bus heading north. If all goes as planned, I’d get to MassMutual and connect to a PVTA bus heading north. Unfortunately, this bus goes nowhere near my job, so I’d have to go all the way downtown to catch the right one. I’d get downtown at 8:30, and hopefully be able to hop right on a bus going where I need to go.
Ideally, I’d arrive there at 8:44, and then walk for about 10 minutes to get to my actual workplace. Total travel time: 90-95 minutes.
The other option is to hop an express bus going south, and catch an Amtrak train going north from Windsor Locks. Of course, the first one available leaves at 9:44 a.m., and the bus heading south stops running during the middle of the day. I’d have to leave home at 8 a.m., and probably get to work around 10:40 a.m. — nearly three hours late. Total travel time: 160 minutes.
I can get there in my car in 15 minutes. Therein lies the big transit problem, and the reason why we’re still addicted to our cars around here.
Granted, my situation is a little weird. If I worked in Hartford, or lived across the border in, say, East Longmeadow, I would have less of a problem. But if I lived in Newington and worked in Bloomfield, or if I lived in the Hartford area and worked in the Middletown area, or if I lived in rural Connecticut, I’d probably find that having a car was much less of a headache. This is one of the major problems of public transportation in the region; for certain kinds of very specific trips it works great, but it has a long way to go toward meeting the needs of a wider constituency.
Many people live in one suburb and commute to another, or live in the city but have to change buses several times to get across town. In the end, far too many people have to rely on cars to move around if they don’t want to find themselves sitting on a bus for hours or walking for miles to places the bus doesn’t go.
This is why, when I heard that the tax on gas is going up again, that I could only shake my head. It’s not just that the way this tax is calculated is kind of bonkers, though it is, but that it feels punitive and regressive. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wanted to eliminate property tax on cars because that sort of tax falls more heavily on the poor. The gas tax is regressive for exactly the same reasons; you pay the same tax on 15 gallons of gas regardless of your income or the value of your vehicle. The wealthy also don’t tend to drive older cars, meaning they might have something that is more fuel-efficient. If there’s no real alternative to driving, people are now forced to pay more and more just to get to work. This strikes me as unfair.
I’d feel differently about it if the money really was being spent to improve alternatives to driving. Make no mistake, I’m glad to see transit infrastructure improvements like commuter rail and the busway happen, but I’d love to see us think about how to do transit smarter, and how to create a network that makes sense and reflects the way that people actually live.
For now, though, the increase in the gas tax seems like an extra burden working people don’t need. The legislature and governor should act to prevent it.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.