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News Jan 29, 2014 - 11:25:15 AM

Public Transportation Commission: Annual Report and Recommendations

By Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

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The Connecticut Public Transportation Commission has released its 2013 Annual Report containing six recommendations for improving public transportation services in Connecticut. The Commission, an advisory body comprised of gubernatorial and legislative appointees, submitted its Annual Report at year’s end to the governor, the Transportation Committee of the General Assembly and the Commissioner of Transportation. The recommendations contained in its Annual Report are based on information from the seven public hearings the Commission held across the state in 2013 and is twelve monthly meetings. The Commission’s 2013 public hearings were held in Norwalk, Putnam, Bristol, Orange, New Milford, Enfield and New London.

The first recommendation of this year’s Annual Report stresses the importance of reserving all of the monies directed to the Special Transportation Fund for transportation purposes. Transfer of Special Transportation Fund monies to the General Fund deprives Connecticut’s infrastructure and services of these much-needed resources and also violates the trust that the Special Transportation Fund’s supporting revenues and user fees will benefit the transportation services and facilities upon which those who pay the gas tax, gross receipts tax, fares and license and permit fees rely. In the longer term, the continued deferred investment in our transportation infrastructure that the diversion of Special Transportation Fund resources causes will erode Connecticut’s attractiveness and make it harder to compete with other states for businesses and residents.

The inter-regional Coastal Link bus service, which operates along the Route 1 corridor between Norwalk and Milford, carries over 4,000 passengers per weekday and over 1.2 million passengers annually. The buses running this service are frequently at or above capacity with some occurrences where riders must be turned away. The Commission’s second recommendation seeks a more secure funding mix for this service, whose current funding mix places this highly effective bus service in perpetual jeopardy.

The Commission’s third recommendation commends the Department of Transportation for restoring full funding to the State Matching Grant program which provides funding assistance to municipalities for the operation of dial-a-ride programs for elderly and disabled persons in over 130 Connecticut cities and towns. A 25% funding cut in the State’s 2011 budget had forced substantial reductions in service hours and levels in many towns. The affected services are important ones to meet the mobility needs of elderly and disabled residents and to foster their ability to live independently.

The Commission also commends ConnDOT for its excellent work to inform the public about the progress on and projected benefits of CTfastrak. A more vigorous and pro-active outreach effort for other high profile transit projects, especially those which may be prone to some level of controversy, may pay dividends in lessening headwinds and gaining public support for those projects. The Commission encourages ConnDOT to apply these same techniques being used for CTfastrak to other high profile projects such as the Stamford Transportation Center redevelopment.

The Commission’s fifth recommendation, which was also contained in the 2012 Annual Report, urges State cooperation with an on-going effort by the Housatonic Railroad to develop a privately-run, unsubsidized passenger rail service between Danbury and Pittsfield. With the commitment by Massachusetts of substantial funding for that state’s portion of the project, this proposal is starting to gain some momentum.

The sixth and final recommendation suggests several methods to address a concern heard across the state every year, namely the need for more local scale marketing and information for local bus services to assist existing users and encourage new ones.

Six other topics noted in the Annual Report as a result of public testimony at its meetings and hearings are the increasing popularity of cycling and the resulting demand for more bicycle amenities and facilities, the desire of several smaller transit districts to implement designated and signed bus stops to increase system visibility and assist their riders, the need for better communication on train platforms to alert riders as to which track an arriving train will be using, the increasing demand for inter-regional bus services, repeated accounts of train fares going uncollected, and the demand for bus and rail services which cross Connecticut’s boundaries into adjacent states.

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