Public transportation hearings or political theater?
In recent weeks I’ve been criss-crossing the state talking to folks about our transportation crisis: the proposed fare hikes on trains and buses coupled with service cuts on the branch lines, and the multi-billion dollar spending cuts at the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
I call it the “Winter of our discontent” magical misery tour. Here’s a link to a video of one of my talks. [It also appears below.]
From Woodbridge to New Canaan, from Old Lyme to West Haven, I’ve talked to crowds large and small, explaining what’s going to happen July 1 and why. Most folks knew something about our impending doom, but they all left unhappy about the cuts’ specific impact on their lives.
Like the First Selectwoman from Old Lyme who said taxpayers were going to have to spend $600,000 repairing a local bridge because, for the third year in a row, CDOT doesn’t have enough money to share with municipalities.
Or the manager of The Roger Sherman Inn in New Canaan who said she’d probably have to close if off-peak train service was cut on the branch, making it impossible for her cooks and waiters to get to work.
But the culmination of all these presentations was a recent Tuesday night’s public hearing in Stamford before an SRO crowd of 200+ angry residents. I’d come more to listen than talk, but couldn’t resist and used my allotted three minutes to ask…
“What are we doing here? Why are we at this hearing when nothing that you or I say tonight will do anything to change the inevitability of these fare hikes and service cuts? This may be cathartic, but it’s just political theater. The folks you should really be talking to are not from CDOT but your State Rep and State Senator. The legislature created this funding problem and only they can fix it. If they raise the gas tax and get serious about making motorists pay their fair share, none of these service cuts or fare hikes will happen.”
I was speaker number 11 of more than 80 who signed up to speak. Some of them waited four hours for their few minutes in front of the mic.
But not the politicians. As state rep’s arrived, they were whisked by the CDOT Commissioner to the front of the speaker’s line, jumping the queue. The Commissioner is no fool. He knows who controls his budget and it isn’t the old guy with a walker complaining about the buses.
When the pols spoke it was the usual platitudes, but no new ideas. “Don’t raise fares, find other funding sources,” said one. What funding sources? To their credit, some of the pols did stay to listen, but others (including at least one gubernatorial hopeful) did their grandstanding and split.
One State Rep did have the guts to poll the crowd on their appetite for raising the gasoline tax and tolling our roads, both of which got loud support, much to his surprise. The people have spoken, so now’s the time for action.
By the way… what kind of message does it send when scores of New Canaan residents go to the Stamford hearing to oppose rail service cuts but take a chartered bus instead of the train?
People are angry. But they need to direct their anger not at the CDOT but at the legislature, holding them accountable for their inaction.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.
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