HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Besides roads and bridges, transportation advocates say many of Connecticut’s bus routes and transit district systems are old and outdated, requiring a much-needed upgrade.
In the eastern half of the state, for example, advocates say changes to the region’s economy have changed where people need to travel to work.
“We had manufacturing centers in eastern Connecticut that have now since gone away and our centers for economy include the casino, includes hospitals, includes these places that are spread out throughout eastern Connecticut without much coordination or very little coordination, if any, between the transit districts,” Windham Rep. Susan Johnson recently told members of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.
Commuters currently can’t make connections between the region’s four transit districts, Johnson said.
“I think it’s imperative that we try to do a better job of coordinating these things,” the Democrat said.
While the bulk of the investment in Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed 30-year, $100 billion transportation overhaul focuses on rebuilding and expanding bridges and roads, there is $2.8 billion proposed to make improvements to Connecticut’s various bus services, which provided more than 43 million passenger trips in 2014. That’s an increase of about 2 million passenger trips in 2012, according to data collected by Transit for Connecticut, a statewide coalition of 33 business, social service, environmental, planning and transportation groups.
“Everybody who doesn’t take a bus believes that no one takes a bus,” Malloy said. “It’s amazing how many people in Connecticut take a bus. It’s growing, it’s growing rapidly. And its’ amazing how many people don’t want to be bothered owning a car anymore.”
Malloy’s plan calls for expanding bus service across the state by 25 percent, providing residents living in an urbanized area access to a bus within a half-mile from their home. It also calls for extending the newly opened CTfastrack rapid bus line east, north and south from Hartford.
What many advocates are particularly pleased about is how Malloy’s proposal calls for integrating and coordinating bus and para-transit services for people with disabilities.
“You have a great opportunity there to relook at the system,” said Karen Burnaska, coordinator of Transit for Connecticut. “If any major investment is going to be made, you have to reassess the people who are using and the people who potentially are going to use it.”
The governor recently appointed a new commission to come up with ways to pay for his massive transportation overhaul plan. In the meantime, the General Assembly still needs to decide whether to approve an initial five-year, $10 billion “ramp-up” period of transportation-related projects and studies.
Some work is already underway to examine Connecticut’s bus system, which includes 26 different contracts for urban bus, express bus and para-transit services across the state. The Department of Transportation, which traditionally has not overseen bus route planning, is currently working with the cities of New Haven and Hartford to re-examine existing services and see whether the routes are bringing people to and from where they live and work.
Douglas Hausladen, director of the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking, said it currently takes people more than 90 minutes to commute to over 70 percent of the jobs in the New Haven region.
“We are just asking too much of our residents,” he said.
State lawmakers are also picking up on the issue. Johnson has proposed legislation this year that would improve coordination of transit services in eastern Connecticut. Meanwhile, another bill would expand bus service in Waterbury to improve access to jobs in one particular section of the city.
DOT Commissioner James Redeker said he ultimately envisions a larger, broader, better-coordinated system of bus services that “put the customer first.” He said the push is being driven by two major factors: an aging population that wants alternatives to driving and younger people who question why they even need a car.
“We really do have to take a long and hard look at what the bus system of the future will be,” Redeker said.
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