On Sept. 17, 2023, over 75,000 activists marched in Midtown Manhattan, demanding President Biden stop new fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency. The following day, the CT Department of Transportation announced its proposed service and fare changes for bus and rail.
Their claims of “improvements” are supposedly the result of a Service and Fare Equity analysis. Initially, I was excited about the prospect of a quicker way to reach the Berlin Turnpike from Hartford; but the proposed route that would go from the Wadsworth Atheneum area to Newington Fair Shopping Center would take 45 minutes by bus; the current route is 35 minutes. By private vehicle, it takes 15 minutes. In New Haven, there would be a new bus route between downtown and the Connecticut Post Mall. This is another trip that would take 15 minutes by private vehicle, but somehow by bus, stretches into a 40 minute excursion.
Forgive me for not being dazzled. Go back to the drawing board, come up with something that respects the time of bus riders. The proposed 216 route doesn’t fare better, seeming redundant to train service between Meriden and New Haven until you notice this detail: it caters to an Amazon facility. That is useful for the workers, but should open up a question about funding and if corporations such as this are making sizable financial contributions toward the public transit system. If not, why not? You’ll hear that service cuts – no matter which euphemisms CTDOT decides to use – are because insufficient funds force choices, but Connecticut has not shown itself to be serious about pursuing alternative ways of keeping transit going, let alone making it actually more equitable.
The so-called equity improvements would drop the 140 CCSU Connector bus. They claim low ridership without elaborating on their role in this. The wait for this bus is 30 minutes. A reasonable replacement would be to run minibus shuttles every 10-15 minutes. CCSU students and employees should be able to easily walk from the Cedar Street CTfastrak station to campus, but the Town of Newington has yet to figure out sidewalks and other basic amenities for pedestrians. Until then, shuttle service feels required.
The 69 route proposed changes feel confusing as there is a shortening of the route’s distance, ending at the Veterans Hospital. Because of some overlap with other bus routes, this could be acceptable. Currently on weekdays, there’s a 69 bus leaving from downtown Hartford every half hour. With the new schedule, headways would be all over the place – sometimes the same, but many times the wait would be five or ten minutes longer. There would still be no Sunday service.
The only genuine improvements I see in their whole list are coming to the DASH, 144, and 153 routes. DASH service – a free bus tailored for out-of-town visitors to Hartford – would be eliminated during the part of the week when it circles downtown empty, but on Thursday-Sunday there would be extended service later in the evening, making it usable for people leaving ball games. The 144 route would reduce wait times by 20 minutes on weekdays, yet have no improvements to weekend service. Most notably, the 153 would again serve University of Hartford students and employees after the bus stop was deleted previously during the pandemic.
In CTDOT’s press release about upcoming public hearings, they referred to the proposed changes for Greater Hartford buses as ways to “promote efficiency.”
Efficiency for whom? Not passengers.
I can’t even talk about what they’re doing to the trains.
An analogy: since Elon Musk purchased Twitter, now X, the platform’s functionality has diminished. At the same time, the company began charging for certain features that had previously been free. The latest rumor is that all users will have to pay to use the platform at all. CTDOT is behaving in the same way, except with one crucial difference. We can jump off the sinking X ship. Connecticut residents, on the other hand, still need mobility and the alternatives are not nothing but blue skies. They’re unaffordable and often unsafe endeavors like rideshare.
While Connecticut is getting it backward, NYC will be implementing its congestion pricing program starting in spring 2024. It received approval from the Federal Highway Administration in late June – the last hurdle it needed to clear in its two decades in the making. Inspired by London which was inspired by Singapore, this will be the first major congestion pricing program of its kind in the United States. Other major cities are already paying attention.
The results from these programs are measurable. In London, there’s been a 20% drop in carbon dioxide pollution. There is a similar decrease in congestion among major cities that have implemented this: 24% in Singapore and 25% in both London and Stockholm. Stockholm has enjoyed a 9% increase in the use of public transportation.
Revenue from the Central Business District Tolling Program will feed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Program, funding upgrades to MTA subway, bus, and commuter railroads, expanding access to transit. The bulk of it will fund buses and subways.
While it’s taken too long for congestion pricing to become (almost) a reality in our neighboring state, no thanks to the kind of bureaucracy that requires no brainer environmental reviews, they are choosing leadership and action. Connecticut could choose to take bold steps regardless of how angry some people might get about paying closer to the true cost of operating a private automobile.
New York’s approach is sensible: provide reasonable alternatives, ask people (through tolls) to use those alternatives, and improve public transit with revenue from those who won’t ride the train or bus. Here, we’re slashing public transportation’s usefulness and expecting users to pay more for a service that is less convenient. You get what you design for, and in this case, Connecticut is planning for a time that has long gone.
The public hearings are scheduled for Oct. 2-4, 2023, in New Haven, Hartford, and on Zoom. Comments can also be made by phone call, email, or U.S. Mail.