CT: Affordable bus service a civil right, New Haven advocates and others say

The mini-rally and press conference took place on the birthday of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to sit in the back of the bus in one of her many civil rights actions.

Feb. 05–NEW HAVEN — Concern for accessible and affordable bus service brought longtime riders, city officials, drivers and people concerned about greenhouse gas emissions to the city Green Monday, a group that framed the issue in terms of a civil right.

The mini-rally and press conference took place on the birthday of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to sit in the back of the bus in one of her many civil rights actions. Monday’s event ended with the advocates boarding a CT Transit bus for a loop around downtown, while singing "We Shall Overcome."

The biggest feature for some bus riders, was a raffle for seven free 31-day bus passes, although some of the winners immediately sold them for cash at a discount.

This all took place on Transit Equity Day, a collaborative effort of several national organizations and unions across the country who held actions to highlight the need for improved transit systems. A petition seeking that goal will be sent to the new commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, James Giulietti.

Melinda Tuhus, of Elm City Cycling and the New Haven Climate Movement, who helped organize the event, said transit is also a good source of jobs and "an avenue to help protect our planet."

Mayor Toni Harp said the successful launch of Bike New Haven also adds to the diversity of transit options in the city.

She said her administration also has two members on the board of the Greater New Haven Transit District "to help ensure that transit passengers are heard and considered at that level of administration and planning."

She said the transit district will soon move into the same facility as CT Transit, making it easier for them to better collaborate. Harp said last year the city hosted meetings to advance the cause of bus stop consolidation along Grand and Whalley avenues. This year they will talk to residents about the stops on Dixwell and Congress avenues.

Most importantly, Harp said the city is working with CT Transit to ensure that the over 3,000 jobs connected with a new Amazon warehouse in North Haven are accessible to New Haven residents.

The mayor said she also is working with the state on the best approach to Union Station where the city would rather see the $60 million set aside for a second garage scrapped in exchange for transit oriented development there.

Harp said she appreciated the efforts of multiple organizations working on these issues.

"We are running on high heels trying to keep up with you folks," Harp said.

Ralph Buccitti, the business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 281, said, among other things, he admires the advances made by Parks in pushing bus equity a half century ago.

"She fought for the right to have a seat on the bus. Well there is a fight today for bus operators. They are also fighting for a seat. They are fighting for a toilet seat. Bathroom access for bus operators is non-existent," the agent said.

He said there is a list of places to stop, but CT Transit does not own or control them.

"We are asking for the towns, for the cities, the politicians to hear our cry. When you got to go, you got to go," Buccitti said. In contract negotiations, he said the management company wants members to pay for the bathrooms.

He said transit has increased over the years from the early 1990s when there were 165 operators; that has grown to over 200. He said service used to end at 5:20 p.m, on a Sunday evening. Now it runs almost to midnight. On Saturday, buses used to be off the road by 7 p.m. Now they run up 1 a.m. Sunday morning.

Buccitti said the expanded hours began with a pilot program on Saturdays with four buses on the major routes weaving in and out to cover the area. Within one month, the buses were jammed packed.

Weekday service used to end by 10 p.m. with four buses on the road until midnight. He said it now offers a full evening and night time service in Greater New Haven.

A major study of bus routes, Move New Haven-Phase 2, is expected to be finished in March, said Doug Hausladen, executive director of Transportion, Traffic and Parking.

Buccitti said the jump in fuel cost to $5 a gallon several years ago also pushed people to use the bus. Buccitti said the drawback is more assaults on drivers. In another pilot program, they are putting "shields" on 50 buses, which places the operator in a "cockpit" similar to what is seen on a train.

Two students from Common Ground High School also addressed the crowd. Royan Anoh said that, across all ages, neighborhood residents rely on the buses. He said it is a right to catch the bus safely. At his high school he is working on pedestrian safety, he said.

Wilmarys Martinez, another student, congratulated CT Transit for making transit "more climate friendly with less exhaust polluting the air." She said the $1.75 fare however, is an impediment for some people. Martinez said "on multiple occasions" she has helped riders pay the cost.

Michelle Duprey, director of New Haven’s Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities, said persons with disabilities still struggle with transportation. "We have faced many challenges," she said, such as long waits if the first bus that arrives, already has a rider occupying the space for wheelchairs.

Duprey said the state’s new train cars are not fully wheelchair accessible. She said using My Ride needs to be booked days in advance.

"Spontaneity is not a luxury enjoyed by many wheelchair users," she said. She said providers do the minimum required by law. "We have a community that deserves more than the bare minimum," Duprey said.

Anstress Farwell, head of the New Haven Design League, said the proposed garage will only serve 1,000 drivers, while an investment in bus services could benefit hundreds of thousands of rides.

mary.oleary@hearstmediact.com;203-641-2577.

___ (c)2019 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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