Busted Bus System’s Breaks Revealed

Paul Bass Photo Kill a bus route to North Branford that has only 38 riders a day. Eliminate bus stops that are too close together. Create more connection hubs and crosstown bus options instead of forcing everyone to go through the New Haven Green.

A new “mobility” study puts into play those and other potential fixes for New Haven’s beleaguered bus system.

VHB A draft of the highly anticipated first phase of the state-funded “Move New Haven Move” transit study got its first public airing at the Ives main library downtown Wednesday night. And it looks like everything that people have been saying about the CT Transit bus system service in and around New Haven for years is true.

The system is inefficient, inconsistent, and incoherent — and the new mobility study confirms that. (Read the 133-page draft here and a draft executive summary here.)

The first phase of the study took about a year to complete. It was done in collaboration with the city of New Haven, the state Department of Transportation, the Greater New Haven Transit District, the South Central Regional Council of Governments and the Federal Transit Administration.

In addition to laying out the current state of the system, the study, which will be used as a guide for recommending improvements in a second phase, raises questions about whether it’s time to kill underperforming routes and eliminate the multitude of close-together bus stops that drag down even the most used routes.

It also suggests that it might be time to convince Yale University to relinquish its segregated bus system.

New Haven, the municipality in the region with the highest percentage of households without cars, naturally has the highest number of bus riders. Only 27 percent of CT Transit New Haven boardings occur outside of New Haven, according to the draft report. And most of those rides originate in West Haven and Hamden.

$14.87 Per Rider To North Branford

CT Transit New Haven provides bus service for nearly 10 million annual passenger trips a year with its 15 fixed bus routes, one intercity express bus, and two shuttle services, according to the report. The system appears to be spreading itself too thin in the case of low performing routes like the former L-route (now the 213) to North Branford, while simultaneously running itself ragged on high-use routes like the former B and D routes, which are now known as the 243 A/B and 212 B/F/U/W, respectively. (The state recently converted all lettered routes to numbered routes.)

The study’s analysis of the estimated cost of operating each route also raises the question of who is subsidizing whom when it comes to paying for the transit system. It costs $14.89 per rider to operate the former L route for the 38 people who go to North Branford each day. But it costs just $2.42 per rider for the nearly 6,000 who ride the former D route, noted in the report as one of the “workhorse” routes, up Dixwell Avenue each day.

While it costs significantly less overall to operate the bus route to Branford — less than $148,000 a year versus the more than $4.3 million for the Dixwell Avenue bus route — that route doesn’t come as close to paying for itself as the old D bus route.

The report identifies the S-Madison, 55x CT Post Flyer, L-North Branford, and the Commuter Connection shuttle routes as having the highest cost per rider in the system. They cost more than two and a half times more per rider than former B-Whalley Avenue bus route, which financially is the best performing in the system. When you throw in the former J-Whitney Avenue and the C-North Haven, all of these routes are recommended for service improvements because they are the worst performing routes in the system. They either have less than two passenger trips per revenue mile, or they have fewer than 20 passengers trips per revenue hour.

Crowded & Moving Slowly

Markeshia Ricks Photo

Speaking of workhorses ... the former D bus route, now the 213, which serves Dixwell and Grand avenues, and the B bus, turned 243,  which serves Whalley and Congress avenues, represent 47 percent of the system’s ridership, according to the report. These routes have the longest span of operation — more than 18 hours a day — and the shortest headways, with buses coming as frequently as every five minutes at peak hours.

But these routes, which tend to serve sections of the city with high numbers of people who don’t have cars, are also frequently plagued by passenger overcrowding, according to the report. Add bus stop spacing that exceeds a metric of four bus stops per mile, and in some cases exceeds nine stops per mile, and you have buses that spend more time stopping, increasing the time it takes everyone to get where they’re going.

The city decided back in September to tackle bus stop spacing on upper State Street on the former Q-Lombard Street route, that now is 223.  City traffic commissioners voted unanimously to eliminated six little-used stops to improve the flow of traffic on the street and free up 300 feet of new parking. City transit chief Doug Hausladen delayed the implementation of the plan to allow more time for feedback from neighbors. The new study suggests that New Haven should eliminate many more stops than six on not just the old Q route but every route.

Segregated System

One place where CT Transit New Haven might find some more synergy and efficiency is in the Yale University bus system, the report observes. Yale’s shuttle bus routes, which serve only people with Yale identification, overlay the CT Transit routes, particularly the formerly named G-Shelton Avenue (237), the J-Whitney Avenue (228), the M-State Street (224) and the B-Congress Avenue (265).

But Yale buses have a longer span of service, accommodating the schedules of those studying medicine. Yale’s bus system also has headways of 15 minutes or less and uses an application that provides real-time bus information, according to the report. CT Transit recently rolled out its own app, which has not been working as promised. (Read about how well it works here.)

The mobility study provides comparative data from other cities like Ann Arbor, Mich., Providence, R.I., and Houston, Texas. It notes that all three have partnerships with the major universities in those communities that allow faculty and students to ride local transit for free or reduced cost. CT Transit started a similar partnership with the state’s two- and four-year colleges and universities. Students at schools like Gateway Community College and Southern Connecticut State University pay a flat fee as part of their tuition and fees and they can ride CT Transit and Metro-North for free here in the state.

CT Transit Transit Manager Lisa Rivers said Wednesday that some private colleges and universities have expressed interest in what is known as the U-Pass, which all state college and university students use to ride free on buses and trains, funded by an annual student fee. Rivers said officials at the private schools are leery of charging the flat rate to all students because some wouldn’t use the pass.

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posted by: concerned_neighbor on November 3, 2017  12:15pm

Yale’s shuttle service is a “segregated system?” Please. A private employer provides a service for its employees and students. Hardly segregated.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on November 3, 2017  1:19pm

Not surprising how much the B and D (243/212) are used now. They are the main avenues for bus riders in the city: Whalley Ave/Congress Ave/Grand Ave/Dixwell Ave. I regularly ride the 243 but agree that we could do with a LOT less stops. It’s great that I can pick it up right on my street, but the bus makes like 20 stops in 2 miles, which seems pretty crazy and doesn’t speed things up. I’d happily walk an extra block or two if it meant faster bus rides overall.

The Yale Shuttle system is absolutely segregated. By giving free transit to Yale-affiliated employees and students, the Yale system poaches possible CT Transit riders who make up what would generally be considered a higher income group of people, which only further contributes to the stigma that the public buses are for lower class people. I’ve known more than a few people mutter, “The bus is for poor people.” These very same people use the Yale Shuttle, failing to see the irony.

We definitely need a few more transit hubs as well, and more ability to get between non-Green areas. If I want to go from Westville to East Rock, I have to transfer. If I want to go from the Hill to Fair Haven, I have to transfer. There are no circular routes around the city to make those trips easier, but hoping to see a redesign sometime in the near future.

Finally, I will say that the Transit App has been mostly excellent for me. I’m able to see the closest bus to me and get it without too much issue. But it does require the bus drivers to update their locations, and I’ve noticed late at night they often completely fail to do so. When I try to take the merged FBZ late at night, there’s no telling how late it will be, and the app rarely gives me any updates at all. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the app or just late night bus drivers not hitting the button or what.

But for such a liberal city, we need to have a better public transportation that serves everyone.

posted by: Esbey on November 3, 2017  3:07pm

I didn’t read the full report, but the summary sections are damning enough.  They are polite, but they basically come out and say that CT Transit New Haven looks nothing like a system run by competent people. The summary section on “infrastructure” is set up as a series of strong contrasts between our bus system, on one hand, and “modern systems,” on the other hand. 

Here is a another punch-in-the-gut quote:

“Without any data available to measure on-time performance, reliability
issues are only known through information reported through community
outreach”.

This is a multi-million dollar operation that collects no data on performance and reliability! No one with money or power cares about buses, even though a large fraction of New Haven’s population has no car. If important folks cared, this would be a huge scandal.

This report is one step on the road to reform and accountability.  Let’s try to keep these folks on the straight and narrow pathway to redemption.

posted by: SLP on November 3, 2017  5:48pm

The Yale Shuttle needs to experiment with coming out to the west side of the city. Many potential riders.

posted by: wendy1 on November 4, 2017  2:27am

I cant wait to get rid of my car and use Yale’s free buses.  I still have my Yale ID (ugly picture).  And yes, concerned citizen, most of those riders are white.  If that isnt segregation, I dont know what is.  There are few white riders on city buses——take a good look at the photo in front of this article.

P.S.  I am happy to report that since grad students and homeless men frequently dress alike (hoodies, jeans, backpacks) some of my herd use those segregated buses to rest in.

posted by: 1644 on November 4, 2017  5:58pm

As I have pointed out before, Yale created its shuttle system to protect its students from townies, although Yale faculty and staff, which are sort of townies, are also allowed to use the system.  It was created after numerous robberies and assaults of Yale students.  Yes, sometimes those who look like Yalies are not carded, but drivers can ask for identification.  Recently, NHI ran an article about the dangers bus drivers face, including assaults from passengers.  If CT buses are not safe for drivers, then they are not safe for passengers either.  Between TwoRocks mentions poor late night service.  Such times are when Yalies most need reliable service.  Who wants to be waiting on a street late at night any longer than needed for a bus?  Yes, if Yale eliminated its shuttle, some low-level, carless employees would take CT transit.  But the higher income folks would not, because public buses are for poor people.  (Plus, the whole system is unwelcoming to new riders: no maps or schedules at bus stops, no notice of how much or to pay, etc.  The system is nearly impenetrable for an outsider.)
  No mention of YNHH’s also segregated bus system in this article.

SLP: Yes, lots of faculty live in Westville, although driving is fairly convenient since most off Westville is single family houses with driveways, garages, and broad streets, and parking is assigned (and charged) according to rank so faculty generally get convenient parking.  The main target market for the shuttle is students, not faculty or staff, so it runs to the traditional grad student ghettos.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on November 5, 2017  3:13pm

Markeshia did a fine job covering the meeting. But one thing that did not make it into the story was a comment by a participant who is in a wheelchair. She stated that a driver denied her and a friend (also in a wheelchair) access to a bus, saying that the passengers in the area designated for wheelchairs refused to move. The women had to wait 30 minutes for the next bus

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on November 5, 2017  10:49pm

I think it would help commuters who go to college in the area to get on the Yale shuttle for free. Not only Yale students but people who also attend to others colleges like Gateway, UNH and Quinnipiac. The shuttle should be available for all college students as well as the Yale students. Perhaps if the current routes were expanded to certain places than maybe that would probably turn out to be a good solution to the problem.