Waterbury Republican American: Potholes in CTFastrak lanes

April 8, 2016

Only the most peevish of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s detractors actually would hope CTfastrak fails. Once reviled as the “busway to nowhere,” the $567 million mass-transit operation linking New Britain and Hartford is a howling success, Gov. Malloy declared last week. And everyone was happy.

Well, not quite everyone. Even the most mild-mannered of critics couldn’t help but notice there were a few potholes in the rhetorical pavement the governor and his allies laid. Big ones.

First, the good news: In October, CTfastrak — which includes the busway and a number of side routes, recorded 15,757 “passenger trips.” The projection was 11,000. Moreover, after an early series of glitches, the vast majority of passengers seem to be paying their way. And Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker predicts the final project cost, once calculated, will be millions less than $567 million.

All very well. But at least three questions about the busway’s value to Connecticut, and to the commuting public, remain to be answered.

Big bus, little passenger traffic. Anyone who has driven by the Waterbury train station on Meadow Street has noticed a big, new, plush — and empty — coach bus. According to a published report, the CTfastrak bus serving Waterbury, Cheshire, Southington and New Britain carries just four passengers, on average. CTfastrak could save money by picking up a good used minivan to cover this route.

Fiscal impact: unknown. Nobody expects CTfastrak to be profitable — few mass-transit systems are — but state officials celebrating its success at least ought to be able to provide an honest assessment of its operating costs. They’re promising to provide this information in July; surely, a watchful news media will hold them to it.

Effect on automotive traffic: unknown. Busway advocates promised the project would shift traffic from chronically bottlenecked Interstate 84 to mass transit, thereby reducing wear and tear on the highway, as well as the frequency of traffic jams and accidents. Automated traffic-count technology goes back decades; Connecticut officials couldn’t be bothered with laying out a few of the familiar black rubber strips that transmit vehicle counts to electronic recording devices.

Connecticut is stuck with the busway. It isn’t going away. The public might as well hope it accomplishes at least some of its promised objectives. But until state leaders come clean with the facts, skeptics will go on grumbling, and advocates will find themselves unwilling or even unable to rise to its defense.