CTfastrak: “Stasis through Obfuscation” or “Flexibility”?
By Kerri Provost
March 19, 2013
Walking into the Center for Contemporary Culture, one is surrounded by a half-circle of maps, seconds after having a pile of literature thrust into one’s hands. A long table, covered with brochures and smaller maps for takeaway, fills the space where one would typically find light refreshments. Early on, there are more people associated with the project than there are audience members, and they are all ready to provide information that should be apparent, but isn’t, by a single glance at the maps. Before reaching one’s seat there is a kind of information overload at work.
The presentation begins.
Slides flip by too fast for anyone who has not seen this material before to possibly absorb it. Speakers follow one another in a manner that more closely resembles speed dating than a professional attempt at communicating with residents and stakeholders.
Colin Beavan, in his book No Impact Man, describes the way that few people concerned with climate change get beyond changing bulbs and carrying canvas bags; he explains that the widespread inaction is not due to apathy so much as what his wife calls “stasis through obfuscation.” In other words, there is so much — often contradictory — information out there that people do not act because they are confused about what is best, what is true, what is real.
Those attending Tuesday’s lunchtime “Service Planning Open House” at the Hartford Public Library were not just the usual suspects. The audience included people who regularly use public transit and who have something at stake in seeing options improve. Judging from the questions being asked following the speakers’ spiels, it was clear that neither the maps nor the presentation made the “software” of CTfastrak any easier to understand.
Think about it. When you are standing at a train, subway, or bus station, you are typically trying to go somewhere. Few of us just ride transit for the joy of it. We need routes to be simple, transfers to be smooth, and payment options to be flexible. Nobody likes to be that person blocking the map for a long time because getting from a-to-b appears complicated.
The maps provided at today’s meeting came with little explanation; though there was one map showing CTTransit‘s current Hartford-area routes, this did not show how it would change with the implementation of CTfastrak.
With over 1/3 of the CTfastrak construction complete, there are many unanswered questions.
During the question-and-answer session, the Connecticut Department of Transportation was asked if CTfastrak would replace express bus service. Michael Sanders of the CT DOT gave no direct answer to this. Someone coming from New Britain wanted to know about the express bus from there, but she was answered only with information about a bus from Bristol.
Another person wanted to know if there would be “skipped stop service” to speed up trips for those traveling direct from New Britain to Hartford. After a roundabout response, Sanders suggested possible flexibility for bus drivers to continue without making all stops along the way.
Flexibility was uttered often, raising the eyebrows of those who have been paying attention to the DOT’s record of inflexibility on certain aspects of this project.
What will happen with the buses when they reach downtown Hartford?
That’s flexible, Sanders said.
Depending on service needs, like the changes that may occur when UConn relocates one of its campuses downtown, CTfastrak “can change the end of that loop,” Sanders said.
The “frequency of buses will vary depending on route,” Sanders said, and the “time of day.”
To find out about cost, people had to ask.
While there has been much discussion about overall project cost, there really has been nothing said about how much riders would have to pay.
According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, a ride on the CTfastrak route would cost the same as a city bus ticket. Sanders said CTfastrak would honor monthly bus passes and stored value cards. There is a push for riders to use the advanced ticketing system to speed up service.
Planner Graham Carey said that the purpose of today’s open house was to get feedback from the community to ensure that the CT DOT is not “unnecessarily disadvantaging” any areas in terms of access. He explained that the proposed service plans, created in 2009, were created using a “systematic approach” that involved, among other things, using census data.
Before any of the 78 retaining walls or seventeen bridges saw a bit of construction, people have been asking who would be using this service. Is there really demand for it?
Today, this question was asked again by an audience member wanting to know how many people currently take buses from Hartford to New Britain, and how many the CT DOT expects will be riding this CTfastrak route.
Again, no direct answer was given. Sanders said that the CT DOT looks at how many riders use any part of that route and how many may be connecting with other service routes in the area. Currently, he said, there are 6,700 riders in this rather undefined area. Ridership is expected to double with the opening of CTfastrak, and years down the road, the DOT anticipates 16,000 boarding buses daily.
To date, nobody has clarified what these projections are based upon.
Some have intimated that using existing lanes on I-84 would have been a more cost effective move for service that is widely considered to be in low demand.
Without seeing the current routes combined with proposed routes, including how some of these may merge, it is hard to know if CTfastrak adds convenience or just more pavement.
As much as an emphasis was placed on flexibility and getting feedback from audience members, the irony was not lost when Sanders, responding to a question about traffic patterns around Union Station, said: “We [the CT DOT] don’t dictate to the City what they do with City streets.”
The City, residents, business owners, and community organizations have been in a battle with the DOT over exactly this matter. The CT DOT continues to contend that Flower Street — a City street — must be shut down to accommodate the busway and rail. When called on this at the open house, Sanders blamed Amtrak, saying that it “owned” the “crossing,” not the State of Connecticut. Regardless, a crossing is not an entire street.
In the meantime, there are concerns about the present conditions of bus service. One rider said that the bus shelters in the South End of Hartford were removed. Sanders explained this by saying, “We [the DOT] don’t own the shelters. The City of Hartford does.” He offered that a program not run by the City will be adding shelters in eight municipalities in the next year, some of which will be in the clamshell style. The bus rider, unimpressed, said that the clamshell will not provide adequate protection from the elements: “This is Connecticut, in case you didn’t notice.”
Another Meeting and Feedback
There will be another CTfastrak Service Planning Open House on March 19th from 5:30-7:30pm in the Hartford Public Library. The service plans are posted online. Feedback can be delivered anonymously via SurveyMonkey.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.