As much attention as I and others have lavished on trains, buses are the overlooked transportation workhorse of greater New Haven. Buses already supply over 40,000 trips a day in the area and could supply a lot more if the state implements its own years-old plan.
The Move New Haven bus study has been kicking around for nearly a decade, and its recommendations are mostly good: improve frequency and consolidate bus stops and routes. Buses move people most efficiently and attract the most riders when they run direct routes with simple stopping patterns and when they show up on those routes often. None of these are attributes of New Haven’s bus network.
The average bus stop spacing in New Haven –900 feet– is half that seen in Europe and Asia, which lengthens trip times for most people in order to save a lucky few a few hundred feet of walking. Buses are scheduled to come every 15 minutes at their most frequent. Route detours and closely spaced stops that were put in place over the years to appease vocal constituencies need to go.
What lies at the end of the rainbow? Frequency! Simplified lines would allow the same number of buses that run today’s circuitous routes to come more often than today. In Houston, Columbus, Austin, and other cities, increasing frequency to at least one bus every 15 minutes the whole day on simplified routes with fewer stops has produced large increases in ridership after years of stagnation.
Major corridors like Whalley and Dixwell should have curbside bus lanes replace parking to discourage car use and to speed up buses. The state should also remove service that is duplicative, both inside and outside CT Transit. For example, the Commuter Connection shuttles are redundant with other routes and very short. Moreover, eliminating the Yale Shuttle and the hospital shuttle is desirable for several reasons. The vehicles that run those services are far more difficult to board and alight from than the CT Transit buses. Even if they used the same type of bus, a private system with an overlapping coverage area produces confusion and deepens the town-gown divide.
Besides convoluted routes, using the bus service that already exists is harder than it should be. Most people buy a ticket on the bus, a major slowdown to service. Within greater New Haven, there are only three locations other than the Green that sell paper tickets; there are others where one can only purchase or refill the woefully underused Go CT card, but these are too few as well.
One of the most obvious origin points for bus riders, Union Station, has no window or vending machine for any CT Transit bus fare media. CT Transit must do one of two options: put a vending machine on board every bus or massively increase the number of outlets selling tickets. Moreover, it should be a lot easier for riders to figure out how much bus service is out there. There is no bus departure board, for example, at Union Station. It’s no wonder that a huge portion of people arriving by train opt for an Uber without a second thought. Countdown clocks should also be installed at other key stations like the Green, Amity Plaza, and Broadway.
The state needs to make transit as convenient as possible in greater New Haven. In part, that means making it inconvenient to drive and park in areas with dense concentrations of jobs and residents, like downtown New Haven, that transit will always serve more efficiently than private cars. The Move New Haven plan simply restates long-established mobility best practices. Mankind already knows how to shift people’s habits to incorporate more bus rides and fewer car trips, but the smoke signals coming from DOT suggest that too many officials expect riders to make do with today’s disgraceful bus service. The legislature must hold CTDOT accountable for doing their part.
Robert Hale lives in New Haven.
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