Ridership on the 9.4-mile CTfastrak busway is beating expectations, businesses along the route are seeing an increase in their sales, and developers like Douglas Bromfield are interested in nearby buildings that have been vacant for 20 years.
On a tour that started with a hot dog at Capitol Lunch and ended at the long-vacant, four-story Berkowitz building at the gateway to “Little Poland” in New Britain, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his Transportation Commissioner James Redeker touted the success of Connecticut’s first bus-rapid transit system.
“The vision for CTfastrak a decade ago was really about economic development,” Redeker said. “This is what it’s all about. It’s about enhancing a community and providing the catalyst for the kind of growth in businesses that we toured this morning.”
Redeker said the busway is carrying about 14,000 riders per day, which is more than the 11,000 riders per day estimated for the first year of operation. The busway opened in March. Redeker said they’re 25 percent over the first-year goal just a couple months into it.
The tour included a stop at the EbLens, which swapped its Main Street location with A Yankee Peddler & Pawn. The new EbLens store at 512 Main Street, near the start of the CTfastrak route, has been open for a week. EbLens manager Michael Pingree told Malloy the new location has attracted both returning and new customers.
Malloy also visited Roly Poly Bakery where he accepted a box of Polish pastries for his wife. Malloy said the box included some baked goods — a particular type of biscuit — that he had never seen before and he used them as a metaphor for the $567 million busway.
“I used it as an example saying, ‘well, I’m not familiar with that, therefore I’m not sure it’s any good, therefore maybe I shouldn’t be for it’,” Malloy said. “Which was in many ways what happened with CTfastrak. People who had never used or seen that kind of system didn’t believe in it.”
He said now people are using the busway to get to retail locations like Eblens and Roly Poly.
“I think CTfastrak stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished,” Malloy said.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said it’s hard for communities to understand the need for development around mass transit.
“A lot of people don’t understand how many people rely on mass transit on a daily basis,” Stewart said.
At the same time, one of the biggest complaints about the busway has been the lack of available parking at the stations. Stewart said she’s working with the state to find a way to provide free parking to busway riders in New Britain. Currently, CTfastrak riders who park in New Britain can pay $3 per day to park in the municipal garage.
But no matter how much of a success the busway has been in its first few months, there were lots of critics leading up to its launch.
According to a report by the Associated Press, at least one Department of Transportation employee was anxious to counter critical commenters in the comment section of the Courant.
The AP reported Tuesday that Michael Sanders, the department’s transit administrator, suggested in an email that he would use a “stage name” to post a comment on a newspaper website.
Asked about incident, Malloy said he hasn’t spoken to Sanders about it, but “maybe he thought printing the truth and perhaps not saying who it’s coming from in the department made sense.” Malloy said he thinks “it was a mistake” but he’s not aware of an untruths being posted.
Does this give critics another opening to pan the busway?
“Only if they’re stupid,” Malloy said. “We’re exceeding the numbers, people are buying buildings, people are investing in real estate.”
Sanders has not been placed on administrative leave, but Redeker said the situation is being dealt with internally.
“Frankly, what he did was to clear a fact base and advocate for a project, and I think those are good things,” Redeker said.