Thursday, October 1, 2009

Transit versus highways in Connecticut

Last week I argued that a two-way dedicated busway on the Long Island Expressway would help make bus service between New York and points north and east faster and more reliable. That would boost ridership on these services, making the for-profit companies more reliable and the government agencies less dependent on subsidies.

Joel Azumah has been weighing the potential profits to be gained from running buses to New Haven, so I asked him what he thought. He observed, "I think CT's bus issues stem more from I-95 being erratic when it comes to congestion."

I've been thinking a bit about this corridor lately, since both Metro-North and Connecticut Transit are facing budget cuts. It got me wondering what the government might be doing to subsidize driving there. It turns out to be quite a lot.

1937: Hutchinson River Parkway
1938: Merritt Parkway
1949: Wilbur Cross Parkway
1958: New England Thruway and Connecticut Turnpike
1967: I-84
1974: I-684
1988: I-691
2001: Widen Turnpike in Stamford
2004: Widen Turnpike in Bridgeport

You could argue that the tolls on the Turnpike were "user fees," so that all the highways built or maintained with this money were not directly subsidized. That argument went out the window when the state removed the toll booths on the Turnpike in 1985. At the time politicians tried to claim that it would be paid with an increase in the gas tax. Regardless, it's clear that the State of Connecticut has been spending billions to help people drive quickly in the corridors that parallel the New Haven line.

This affects the amount of subsidy required for Metro-North and Amtrak, and thus the number of trains that can be run and the fares charged. As Azumah observed, it also affects the profitability of Greyhound, Peter Pan and any other bus lines that might want to operate in that area. It even affects the service and fares on the buses paid by CT Transit, because many people use these highways for local trips, reducing bus ridership and starving them of revenues.

What could transit advocates do to restore competitiveness to transportation in this area? First of all, oppose any new widening projects. There are currently none that I know of on the horizon, but there are lots for the Turnpike east of New Haven. Second, press for tolls to be reintroduced, not just on the Turnpike but on the Merritt and Wilbur Cross, and on I-84, I-684 and I-691. Tolls on the Turnpike should be set at rates that would return traffic to levels where it will not interfere with intercity bus operations. Other options would be to use some of the lanes added in Stamford and Bridgeport as dedicated bus lanes.

1 comment:

George K said...

The sad part is that the New Haven Line is a fairly frequent commuter rail line, and the fares are relatively low ($11 for a 60-mile trip between New Haven and New Rochelle, or about $0.16 per mile).