Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Good News for Commuters

Maybe I really will be able to ride the bus to work one of these days.

Here's a link to the story, but they usually go to archives in just a few days.

Mar 21 2007 4:12 AM
State urged to put buses on the roads
By Robert Miller

[photo: Linda Tarjanyi, of Danbury gets off the bus at the Kennedy Avenue bus stop in Danbury on Tuesday.]

Too many people are driving on the state's roads.

"I-95 is a traffic nightmare," Karen Burnaska, coordinator of Transit for Connecticut, said Tuesday. "I-84 is becoming almost as congested."

In a report issued Monday, Transit for Connecticut asked the state to take some of those cars off the road by increasing state spending on bus transportation by nearly $280 million over the next five years.

The report said this would help the state's economy, its residents and the environment by creating a more mobile workforce without adding cars to the highways.

"The point is we need to give real choice to the residents of Connecticut," said Gloria Mills, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Community Transportation, one of the members of Transit for Connecticut coalition. "We need options that are flexible and affordable."

Transit for Connecticut's members include business groups and transportation and environmental advocacy groups, including the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

The report comes at a time when Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other state leaders are trying to change the state Department of Transportation's decades-long devotion to highway spending by adding more mass transportation to the mix.

Michael Sanders, DOT transit administrator, said Tuesday the DOT has let the state's bus system languish.

"I've been here 13 years, and we haven't increased spending on bus transportation that would have allowed it to grow," Sanders said.

At the same time, Sanders said, it's become increasingly clear all the state's major issues -- economic growth, environmental protection, smart growth, combatting sprawl, and access to health care -- come back to improving its transportation system.

The report says Connecticut spends less on transportation than Northeast states of comparable size, including Rhode Island, New Jersey and Maryland.

"There's no way rail and bus transit will ever take the place of the highways," Sanders said. "But there are some things rail does best and some things buses do best."

The state is finding new ways to mix and match these different modes of traveling, he said. For example, Sanders said, the state runs a daily express commuter bus from Stamford to White Plains, N.Y.

"We have people taking the train from Branford to Stamford, then getting on the bus," he said.

The state has big sections -- especially the northwest and northeast corners -- where a rail infrastructure doesn't exist.

"But there are still people there that need to get to jobs, that need to get to doctors' appointments," Sanders said.

In Danbury, the HART/Housatonic Area Regional Transit bus system is studying commuter bus service to Waterbury and Bridgeport, said Richard Schneider, HART's director of service development.

HART also plans to offer shuttle service from New Fairfield to the Metro-North railroad station in Southeast, N.Y.

Schneider said HART's two existing transit shuttles -- which take Danbury commuters to the Metro-North station in Brewster, N.Y., and Ridgefield commuters to the Metro-North station in Katonah, N.Y. -- have been solid successes.

"The Ridgefield ridership has increased by 25 percent in the past year," Schneider said.

The Transit for Connecticut report calls for expanding bus routes by offering more runs during crowded hours and providing more weekend service. It calls for creating rapid-transit bus service along major transportation corridors, expanding the Dial-a-Ride service to towns not served by buses, creating more commuter connection services to trains, and expanding express service between major employment centers.

According to the report, the state could increase bus ridership by 81 percent. Mills, of the Connecticut Association for Community Transportation, said the figure now stands at about 35 million rides a year.

But, it will cost the state about $63.6 million over the next five years for operating costs and another $215 million for new buses.

Burnaska, coordinator of the Transit for Connecticut coalition, said the state needs to replace its buses with new, clean-diesel buses, or retrofit existing buses to make them clean diesel.

With an enlarged fleet of such buses running more routes, she said, many drivers would choose to use them for commuting, reducing the number of cars on the road and cutting pollution, she said.

It would also promote what Rell's administration calls "responsible growth" -- encouraging development in urban centers with existing infrastructure, while slowing sprawl into the suburbs.

However, coalition members said Rell's proposed 2008-09 budget calls for a 20-percent fare increase for state bus riders. Mills said fare increases generally discourage people from using mass transit.

While the state budget contains $7.5 million to purchase new buses, Mills said, it has no extra money for operating those buses.

The proposed budget also cuts a $5 million-a-year grant program that helped towns develop new bus routes or improve existing ones to serve the elderly and people with disabilities.

"We hope that money will be restored," she said.

"It is that issue -- how much money the General Assembly decides to spend on improving bus transit -- that will determine the fate of the report," said the DOT's Sanders.

# Contact Robert Miller


or at (203) 731-3345.

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