CTfastrak Fans In New Britain: Start Marketing The Busway
By DON STACOM
March 12, 2013
NEW BRITAIN —— An audience of university students, professors and city residents enthusiastically applauded the CTfastrak plan Tuesday, and recommended just one major improvement: More marketing.
Speakers praised the bus rapid transit system as a way to strengthen neighborhoods, build business and give central Connecticut people — especially those without cars — new opportunities for jobs, entertainment and education.
The state transportation department brought its busway information program to Central Connecticut State University's student center for a midday presentation, and at least 10 people in the audience said they're eager to see service start.
"You keep hearing it's the 'bus to nowhere,' but to me this isn't nowhere," said Christian Lemp, a 28-year-old chef who commutes from New Britain to Hartford. "Central Connecticut is a diverse place — with this, young people can go to Ragged Mountain, Westfarms, maybe come to New Britain for the art museum or Polish or Puerto Rican food."
The 9.4-mile route links Hartford and New Britain via West Hartford and Newington, and is directed mainly at reducing commuter traffic on I-84. But the DOT is also predicting that CTfastrak can attract plenty of non-business riders if it combines express Hartford-to-New Britain service with shuttles to special events. Operations planners are studying if they can serve museum exhibits, concerts, New Britain Rock Cats games and similar events.
CTfastrak staff was at CCSU to get suggestions on how it can best attract students and staff to drive less and use the bus, instead. Brian Trial asked engineers to move the opening date from February 2015 to early January; that would let CCSU students get used to riding from the first day of the semester, and also might draw University of Connecticut students if the university's West Hartford classes are relocated to Hartford that year.
"We'll see how construction goes," replied Brian Cunningham, supervisory engineer.
Even though the DOT's most recent service plan shows the busway operating only from 6 a.m. to midnight, CTfastrak engineers promised that service would begin at 4:30 a.m. and continue until 1:30 a.m. They acknowledged frequency would be relatively light in the earliest and latest hours.
Audience members suggested that the DOT give out coupons for free rides when the busway opens, saying people would embrace mass transit once they've tried it. Others suggested distributing maps and brochures on regular CT Transit buses now so that riders on those feeder routes are prepared when the new service starts. Several speakers prodded planners to aggressively market the busway now so that ridership starts off strong.
An identical presentation got a cold reception Monday evening in Bristol, where many people believe their city was shortchanged by the DOT's choice to build a busway rather than restore the Bristol-to-New Britain-to-Hartford rail line. Bristol would have been a key station along the rail route, especially if it had been rebuilt southward to connect with Metro-North's Waterbury branch.
"We've had our share of negative publicity," Cunningham said Tuesday. "I'm not going to win everybody over. But once we start operations we'll see a large change in people's attitudes."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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