For now, at least, it appears free bus service for CTtransit riders is dead. That’s according to the leader of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
“I’m not going to say there’s never an opportunity for it to come back,” DOT Commissioner Garret Eucalitto said Tuesday. “We’re looking at $75, $76 million a year [in] additional funding we would need in order to pay for what we have today, waive all bus fares and then expand the bus service.”
Service on CTtransit and other public buses was free for a year during the pandemic. But fares resumed in April, sparking debate regarding whether free service would ever come back.
Eucalitto sat down with Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live for a wide-ranging interview touching on free bus service, road safety and speeding cameras.
Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Work zone speed cameras continue to rollout across CT
Work zone speed cameras that went online last month are not in place to make the state extra money, Eucalitto said.
Instead, the intent is to get people to slow down as they approach work zones, he said.
“Because those people working on the side of the road – doing construction, inspecting the construction jobs, repairing the guide rails – they are extremely vulnerable,” he said. “Their backs are to the traffic at times. The intent is really to protect them as much as possible.”
Eucalitto said one speed violation will result in a warning. A second offense is a $75 fine, with each subsequent violation costing a driver $150.
The DOT says cameras are publicized online and are currently located at work zones in Newtown, Norwalk and Waterbury.
A spokesperson for the agency said Wednesday that preliminary data from the cameras should be available early next week.
Free bus service isn’t likely to come back anytime soon
Rising costs and a need to expand CTtransit service means waiving fares would be difficult, Eucalitto said.
“We’re looking at $75, $76 million a year [in] additional funding we would need in order to pay for what we have today, waive all bus fares and then expand the bus service,” Eucalitto said.
Bus fares were waived earlier in the pandemic. But the DOT said federal regulations call for an equity study to continue free fares. So far, proposals to free up money to fund those studies have failed to get traction among state lawmakers.
“I’m not going to say there’s never an opportunity for it to come back,” Eucalitto said, noting that in the budget before lawmakers, the cost to maintain current services “went up by $26 million.”
“When you add that — in addition to the $42 million in fares that we normally collect — that’s $68 million,” Eucalitto said. “Plus, the governor’s proposed expanding bus service in the state by another $8 million per year.”
Wrong-way alert systems will soon come to some CT roads
A rise in aggressive driving during the pandemic is still playing out on Connecticut roadways, Eucalitto said.
“Anyone who drives on our roads, anyone who walks on our roads, or bikes on our roads, has seen more aggressive driving,” he said.
Law enforcement can help stop aggressive and impaired drivers, but “it’s not just about enforcement,” Eucalitto said. “It’s also about changing the infrastructure. Making our roadways safer for drivers, for bikers, for pedestrians.”
Eucalitto said the state DOT will be investing in wrong-way driver alert systems, which will be installed at on-ramps and off-ramps. The systems will flash lights at an individual if they are detected as driving up the ramp the wrong way.
“We’ve identified 120 [ramp locations] that we’re going to install this technology,” Eucalitto said. “When you look at the data of who has caused these wrong-way crashes, of the 13 crashes in 2022, the 23 fatalities, all of them except for two, involved drunk drivers.”
Listen to the full episode: “A conversation with Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto”
This story was first published May 3, 2023 by Connecticut Public.