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.
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 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
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.
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.