This weekend marked the grand opening of Connecticut’s landmark CTfastrak bus rapid transit system. Mobilizing the Region contributor Sandy Johnston made the trip from Albany to check it out on Sunday, the second full day of operations. Here are some of his observations:
Arriving in Hartford
CTfastrak is a major win for Connecticut’s capital city, but Hartford still has work to do to enhance car-free options. It’s not news that downtown Hartford has a lot of parking lots and, despite state investments, isn’t the most transit-friendly place.
Still, it’s somewhat jarring to see so much surface parking right across the street from historic Union Station, which serves Amtrak trains, and soon the Hartford Line commuter rail service.
More work to do on CTfastrak stations downtown
CTfastrak offers an easy transfer from Union Station at the corner of Asylum Street and Union Place, but the station isn’t yet complete. There’s still no shelter, seating or ticket machines; there’s not even any signage indicating that it is a stop. Other downtown (that is, off the busway) stops are in similar stages of not-quite-completeness. Attracting more riders who work in downtown Hartford will be easier if it’s clear where CTfastrak buses stop and where they’re going, so hopefully these final touches will be completed soon.
A bus running on Route 101, the primary local service along the busway, did eventually pull up, and we boarded to ride it around the downtown loop. The 64-foot articulated bus was nearly full, and became more so as we circulated through downtown Hartford. Despite the lack of signage, many people congregated at the stops, perhaps informed by the CTfastrak ambassadors on hand. By the time we left downtown to hit the busway, the bus was totally full, with many people standing.
Nice buses make a difference
The buses themselves are modern and spacious with a number of thoughtful features aimed at a pleasant user experience: back-resting pads for people standing in the articulated section between the two bodies of the bus, as well as bike racks inside the bus itself, like they are on the Metro-North New Haven Line. The racks look like they could hold four or five bikes, but only one was in use during this trip. Racks are located toward the back of the bus, across from the rear door, which means that bicyclists may at times need to navigate their way through crowds. Still, it’s much faster than attaching bicycles to the front of the vehicle, like you’d traditionally see on buses.
An enthusiastic, diverse, curious ridership
The crowd on the bus was diverse in age and ethnicity, including a large contingent of families and people who appeared to be retirees, not surprising since seniors are especially in need of better transit options. One rider who identified himself as “the marketing guy for an auto dealership next to the busway” said he wanted to know where he should put up signs advertising to bus riders.
Beautiful station buildings
CTfastrak stations are impressive, and decked out in shiny metal and white concrete. Boarding is as close to level as a bus is capable of getting, with extensions jutting out from the raised curbs to meet the doors of the bus (the drivers need some practice on hitting their spots, but that will come with experience). The massive terminus at New Britain, with separate bays for local, express, and busway service, is clearly the crown jewel of the system with its elegant central corridor running the length of the station:
Downtown New Britain itself, though physically dominated — not unlike some parts of downtown Hartford — by an enormous parking garage, has some beautiful architecture and clearly stands to benefit from proximity to the new transit hub.
CTfastrak’s real test will play out over the next few days as commuters adjust to the system and operational and mechanical kinks are ironed out. The region’s first bus rapid transit system seems well on its way to being a hit. It’s up to all involved to make it a home run.
Photos by Sandy Johnston, except top photo, taken by Joseph Cutrufo.