When the Connecticut state budget passed earlier this year, legislators swept $110 million out of the (supposedly) dedicated Special Transportation Fund. At the same time, a 15 percent fare hike on Connecticut Transit (CTTRANSIT) bus riders was included in the budget as way to reduce state spending on bus service. Essentially, Connecticut’s leaders chose to balance the budget on the backs of those who could least afford it.
This past month, CTTRANSIT held fare hike hearings where advocates and riders alike cried foul, pointing out that the hikes will impact transit users who make on average $7,000 less annually* than those who drive to work alone and arguing that any increase should be used to improve service. (Read Tri-State’s official testimony here.)
The hikes will raise the price of a single fare from $1.30 to $1.50, with the cost of monthly passes expected to increase by 15 percent. CTTRANSIT is operated by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and provides service in the Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury, New Britain, Meriden, Bristol and Wallingford areas.
The proposal includes no service cuts, which have been proposed in previous years. That’s a positive — service cuts have very disruptive effects on transit riders: route cancellations and less frequent service leads to longer and more difficult commutes. But fare hikes have an impact as well, and a 15 percent increase is significant. For a minimum-wage worker who takes the bus twice a day, five days a week, the fare increase will add up to more than a full day’s pay over the course of a year.
Riders argued that the fare hikes would seriously impact the disabled, students and the working poor. State Representative Roland Lemar (D-New Haven) and New Haven transportation director Jim Travers also testified against the fare hikes, but said that if the increases went through, the revenue should be used to improve service.
Advocates agreed. ”The revenue from any fare increase should be used to improve bus service and not to let the state spend less money on transportation,” Transit for Connecticut coordinator Karen Burnaska told the Stamford Advocate. “This is a time we want to encourage people to use mass transit, and we definitely don’t want to discourage them.”
Indeed, CTTRANSIT ridership throughout the state has increased every year since 2010, and the trend is particularly clear in Connecticut’s cities. For example, one in nine Stamford residents and workers commute via transit, significantly more than in 2000, according to Census data.
While the fare hike hearings have come to a close, the state DOT will continue to accept comments electronically and by mail through October 11.
*Figure includes all transit in Connecticut, including CTTRANSIT, Metro-North and Shoreline East.