doug hardy / ctnewsjunkie
A CTfastrack bus pulls into the stop near Stop & Shop on New Park Ave. in Hartford (CTNewsJunkie file photo)
JAMIL RAGLAND

As college students across the state are returning to classes, some are doing so at a much cheaper expense. Students who attend a public college or university in the state are given a U-Pass, which allows students unlimited access to all of Connecticut’s in-state public transportation services for a $20-per-semester fee, added to their fee bill.

The program has been so successful that private colleges are hoping to join in. In 2017, John J. Petillo, President of Sacred Heart University, wrote an op-ed in the Hartford Courant calling for the U-Pass to be expanded to private schools. There is now a proposal before the General Assembly to allow the state to offer the U-Pass to private colleges.

Connecticut should look long and hard at the success of this program, and make the bold choice to expand it even further. The state should offer every resident of Connecticut a low-cost U-Pass. This policy would push Connecticut to the forefront of public policy and have immediate and long-term environmental and economic benefits for the state’s residents.

According to the the Courant, which cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut is one of only three states to have its workforce shrink since it’s peak before the Great Recession. Investment using the typical tools of public policy – tax breaks, cheap loans, and other incentives provided to employers – have not spurred private-sector job growth enough to make up for the loss of public-sector employees following the Great Recession. An approach that gives money-saving alternatives to state residents can help spur growth in other ways.

TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches economic and technical data on surface transportation issues, found that drivers in Connecticut’s urban areas incur over $2,000 in annual expenses as a result of the state’s congested, poorly kept roads. A cheap, easy way to access public transportation, such as the U-Pass, would give drivers a real option in getting around daily. Connecticut’s drivers could save hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars by leaving their cars parked every now and then and hopping on the bus instead. They could then use that money to help pay bills, seek higher education, visit the doctor, or go out to eat – the kinds of economic activities that cause growth from the bottom up. The American Public Transportation Association notes that every $1 invested in public transportation generates $4 in economic returns.

Providing a low-cost U-Pass to every Connecticut resident also helps with the challenge of climate change. Each person on a bus is potentially one less person in a car, spewing more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. A bus full of riders is the equivalent of taking 40 cars off the road and removing nearly 200 metric tons of C02 from the air annually. Climate change is not a distant threat our descendants will have to deal with. It’s a real factor now, and we need to make changes today.

Finally, such a bold move will spur innovation and thoughtfulness in Connecticut’s regional transportation strategy. Years ago, the CTFastrak busway was billed as the beginning of a regional transportation approach – one which could eventually see Connecticut linked more closely to the area around it. Connecticut is, in fact, fortunate to find itself between wonderful cities such as Boston, New York, and Providence. Expansion of the U-Pass could spur movement on further regional public transportation such as expanded train services, shared bus resources between states, and even high-speed rail that would knit together the eastern seaboard from D.C. to Boston. Such a vision sounds incredible, but it could start with a public that has the access and incentives to turn to public transportation.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

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