Gov. Ned Lamont at a bus station in Hartford Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Ridership on Connecticut’s bus transit programs has risen in the past month as fuel prices have climbed and more commuters have taken advantage of a temporary suspension of bus pass fees, state officials said Monday.

The state legislature included temporarily free bus service as part of a bill designed to blunt the impact of inflation in Connecticut earlier this spring. Policymakers later extended the package, which included a holiday on the state’s 25-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, until December as part of the state budget.  

During a Monday morning press conference at a Sigourney Street bus station in Hartford, state transit officials said ridership on CTfastrak, a dedicated bus route between New Britain and Hartford, had grown by 150,000 riders in the last month. 

“The ridership has risen steadily since we’ve implemented the program,” Dennis Solensky, public transit administrator for the Transportation Department, said. “The more people get used to it, it takes a little while to change folks’ transportation patterns and habits so as everyone gets familiar with it and starts riding they ride more and more and I’m very confident it will result in additional people using the bus that may have never tried it before.”

Joseph Giulietti, state transportation commissioner, said that although ridership still lagged behind pre-pandemic levels, it had grown recently to about 90% of those rates. 

“It’s a tremendous boon for public transit,” Giulietti said. “It’s going to set the stage and it’s also going to set the stage for what we’ll call a carbon neutral or carbon free as we get more and more of the electric buses that we are hoping over time we’ll get them all converted.”

Joseph Giulietti, state transportation commissioner Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Currently, only 10 of the state’s roughly 850 transit buses are electric models. During the press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont said he expected that number to increase to around 50 electric buses by later this year.

Lamont said the free bus service was reducing the financial burdens of families who use public transit frequently. His office estimates it could save some households as much as $800 over nine months, depending on their bus usage. The governor said he would consider extending the policy beyond its current Dec. 1 expiration date.

“It’s something I consider very affordable and is this something you continue after Dec. 1,” Lamont said. “Look, I’d like to. I want to see whether this gets more people into buses, makes it easier for people to get around, gets a few more cars off the road. That’s something we’ll decide with the legislature later this year, early next year.”

Although it was initially adopted on a bipartisan vote in the legislature, the current extension of the free bus fare and gasoline tax holiday was included in the state budget, which was opposed by most legislative Republicans. 

In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers have begun holding rallies in an effort to pressure Democrats into holding a special legislative session to pass additional tax policies including a suspension of the state’s diesel tax, which is scheduled to increase by 9 cents next month due to a longstanding adjustment formula based on its wholesale prices. 

At the bus station on Monday, House Speaker Matt Ritter argued the waived bus fares and suspended gasoline tax offered residents more in the way of direct tax relief.

“The taxes that we did go right into your pocket. There’s no middleman. There’s no hope and no wish-factor involved,” Ritter said. “This is direct subsidies to individuals whereas the diesel tax, again, [is paid by] a lot of out-of-state truckers, a lot more complicated by national events, international events.”