Stop sham­ing bus rid­ers

The News-Times - - NEIGHBORS - Jim Cameron

Why is there so much scorn for those who ride the bus?

Forty-one mil­lion trips are taken on 12,000 pub­lic buses each year in Con­necti­cut in com­mu­ni­ties across the state (not count­ing school buses). Yet, those rid­ers are re­garded as losers, not by the tran­sit op­er­a­tors, but by those who drive by car.

When Southing­ton was re­cently con­sid­er­ing restor­ing bus ser­vice for the first time since 1969, one res­i­dent wrote a let­ter to the lo­cal pa­per declar­ing, “Towns that have bus ser­vice are towns that frankly have a lesser qual­ity of peo­ple.”

Re­ally? “Lesser qual­ity” — how? Be­cause they can’t afford to own a car? Or be­cause they are mi­nori­ties? That com­ment is ei­ther racist or clas­sist or both.

As I wrote re­cently, the Greater Bridge­port Tran­sit bus sys­tem car­ries 18,000 pas­sen­gers ev­ery day (5.2 mil­lion a year), 90 per­cent of them ei­ther go­ing to school or work. Some­thing like 26 per­cent of all Bridge­port train rid­ers got to or from the sta­tion by bus.

Sure, some are non-white or non-English speak­ing. But why be­grudge them transporta­tion? You’d rather they not have a job or an ed­u­ca­tion?

And yes, their fares are kept low with state sub­si­dies. But their in­comes are also low and for them even a $1.75 bus fare is ex­pen­sive. Re­mem­ber, Metro-North trips

(26.5 mil­lion per year), though also ex­pen­sive (the high­est in the U.S.), are also sub­si­dized.

But the big­gest tar­get of tran­sit scorn is CT­fas­trak, the 4-year-old, 9.4-mile ded­i­cated BRT (bus rapid tran­sit) sys­tem be­tween Hart­ford and New Bri­tain. Tran­sit plan­ners from across the coun­try come to study CT­fas­trak. The feds are look­ing to spend $665 mil­lion on sim­i­lar sys­tems across the U.S.

Yet, Con­necti­cut Repub­li­cans tried to close it be­fore it even be­gan.

When it first opened in

2014, the state Depart­ment of Transporta­tion pro­jected

16,000 daily rid­ers. To date, the rid­er­ship is closer to

11,400. Fares are cheap

($1.75 round-trip) and ser­vice is fre­quent with buses depart­ing ev­ery few min­utes. From New Bri­tain to down­town Hart­ford, it’s only 20 min­utes, even at rush hour. That’s about half the time you’d spend on In­ter­state 84 stuck in bumper-to-bumper traf­fic.

From the ded­i­cated bu­sonly right-of-way, buses can also trans­fer to lo­cal roads into down­town Hart­ford and com­mu­ni­ties rang­ing from New Bri­tain and Bris­tol to Cheshire and Water­bury. The sta­tions are clean and mod­ern and the buses even of­fer free Wi-Fi — some­thing we still don’t (and prob­a­bly never will) have on Metro-North.

Crit­ics com­plain about “empty buses” rid­ing up and down the sys­tem. Sure, the buses may not be jammed like Metro-North on a sum­mer­time Fri­day, but they do carry thou­sands ev­ery day. Imag­ine if those bus rid­ers were in cars. How would you like the traf­fic then?

Why the scorn for bus rid­ers? Be­yond racism and class-war­fare, I think there’s ac­tu­ally some jeal­ousy. Why do they get a fast, clean, cheap ride when I’m stuck in traf­fic? Well, for some, it’s a mat­ter of ne­ces­sity: they don’t own or have ac­cess to a car. For oth­ers, as with train rid­ers, it’s a mat­ter of choice: they pre­fer the bus for speed and con­ve­nience.

So can we please stop sham­ing bus rid­ers? Like all of us, they have places to go, so let’s just al­low them to ride in peace and har­mony.

Cathy Zu­raw / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Rid­ers board a bus in Norwalk.

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Bus pas­sen­gers board Norwalk Tran­sit Dis­trict Wheels buses at the Bur­nell Boule­vard sta­tion in Norwalk.

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