April 19, 2024

YOU ARE THE TRAFFIC

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic the other day on I-95 I grumbled to myself “Where is all this traffic coming from?”   And then I remembered:

If you’re stuck in traffic, you are the traffic!  Guilty. 

But what’s being done to reduce all that traffic?

In New York City they’re about to embark on a daring test:  Congestion Pricing.  Barring any last minute legal moves by opponents, it will soon cost $15 to drive your car into Manhattan below 60th street.

Though this will be a first for the US, congestion pricing has been tried in other big cities going back fifty years.  Singapore has been doing it since the 1970’s and is still fine-tuning the system.  In London, where a congestion zone fee (now almost $19 per day) was instituted in 2003, traffic dropped by 18% in the first year but has since returned.

The idea of congestion pricing is to discourage driving while raising billions of dollars to support mass transit.  Just like highway tolls, those who pay (to drive) should also see some benefit (less traffic) and better mass transit alternatives.

But now NYC wants to add another twist:  lowered speed limits.  As part of that state’s budget package, smaller streets in the city would see speed limits reduced from 25 to 20 mph in the name of pedestrian safety.  So… maybe less traffic (thanks to the tolling) but maybe slower trip times?

And what is Connecticut doing to battle our traffic congestion and improve highway safety?  Not enough.

The CDOT has been marking Work Zone Safety Week with an awareness campaign reminding all who drive to slow down where work is being done roadside.  Even when sober, we drive too fast.  Since the introduction of just three experimental speed cameras in work zones last year, 20,000 drivers were issued warning tickets.


Lawmakers have apparently again killed a bill that would lower the legal blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05.  This was tried last year and also failed despite the fact that Connecticut ranks #4 in the US in fatal accidents.

Also reportedly killed was a bill which would have allowed municipalities to limit the sales of “nips”, those small airline-style booze bottles found littering our highways.  A nickel-a-nip bottle deposit returned $11 million to towns and cities, giving you a sense of the popularity of the booze-to-go bottles:  just quaff and toss.

Just quaff and toss


According to NHTSA traffic data, from 2017 to 2021 there were almost 2000 Connecticut drivers involved in fatal crashes and 40% of them were legally drunk.  And of those who were the drunkest of the drunk (with a blood alcohol limit over 0.15), Connecticut ranked #1 in the nation. Congratulations.

This failure by lawmakers to keep our highways safe by keeping drivers sober just sends the wrong message, starting with their own members.  You’ll remember State Rep Robin Comey who was “reeking of alcohol” after rolling her car in front of the Capitol last year.  Her BAC reading was 0.1446.

While being processed by police, Comey was informed of the consequences if she refused a blood test.  Police body cam footage shows her joking “That doesn’t make sense.  I guess we’ll have to change the laws.

April 12, 2024

TRANSPORTATION UPDATES

Lots of transportation related stories to catch up with, so here goes:

WATCH NEW JERSEY:     Commuters in the Garden State are in for some  expensive travel as NJ Transit just approved a 15% fare hike, its first in nine years.  The reason?  Reduced ridership, just as we have seen on Connecticut trains.  The NJ transit agency said they could either raise fares or cut service (both of which have already happened here in Connecticut).

The NJ Transit fare increase begins July 1st, just after New York City’s new congestion pricing scheme takes effect, so Jerseyites heading to Manhattan will pay more whether by car or train.

NEW HAVEN STATION:    Over 1.7 million Metro-North and Amtrak passengers use New Haven’s Union station each year.  And while the 100-year-old station has been restored, it still sits in a comparative wasteland of parking lots and empty land.  Now the city is launching a major redevelopment plan to gentrify the station with shops, cafes and high rise mixed-use buildings nearby… true TOD (Transit Oriented Development).  But be patient:  they have neither the funding, the zoning revisions or specific plans at hand.

New Haven's Union Station


COLLAPSING BRIDGES:           How disappointing to see Connecticut media regurgitating the same old stories about the sorry state of our bridges following the ship collision in Baltimore that destroyed the Key Bridge.  It wasn’t old age or rusting steel that took out the Baltimore harbor bridge:  it was a 985-foot container ship weighing over 100,000 tons traveling about 9 mph.  Given its momentum, it’s doubtful that any protective barriers (had they been built around the base of the bridge) could have halted the vessel.  Nor do ships of that size come anywhere close to Connecticut ports.  So yes, some of our bridges are in need of work.  But no, in our state “the ship will not hit the span”.

MICROTRANSIT:    At the same time they’re cutting rail service, CDOT is funding nine new Microtransit pilot programs:  on-demand, door-to-door shared ride services akin to an Uber.  Commuters will find such rides useful for solving the first / last mile problem getting to / from train stations, while seniors and those with disabilities will now be able to travel in their local communities at lower cost.  The $19.5 million trial will run for two years in Ansonia, Derby, Shelton, East Windsor, Enfield, Groton, New London, Stonington, Middletown, Madison, Milford, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Trumbull. 

Isn’t it interesting that the Governor can find money for populist projects like these but he refuses to adequately fund existing services like Shore Line East?

EATING CROW:     My thanks to the many of you who alerted me to an error in last week’s column “Too Old to Drive?”.  I was wrong when I said that Connecticut limited the duration of driver’s license renewals to two years after age 65, as in California.  Not so!  Older drivers can request two-year license renewals or go for the standard 6 to 8 year renewals.  And they don’t have to renew in person or pass vision or dementia checks.  So, I got my facts wrong, for which I apologize.

 

 


April 04, 2024

TOO OLD TO DRIVE?

How old is “too old to drive”?  None of us are getting any younger, but when is it time to hang up our keys for our sake and that of others?

“Age is a number, not your capabilities,” says Nora Duncan of the AARP.  There are lots of young people out there who are worse drivers than their elders, she says, so age alone isn’t an indication of how well you can drive.


“It’s the wild west out there right now, but I doubt those driving 100+ mph on our interstates are our older drivers,” she added.

Still, some states are adding new safety checks to make sure older drivers still have the mental acuity and physical ability required for driving.  Take California for example.

In that state where driving is a necessity and heavily policed, once you hit age 70 your license is only renewed in person every five years.  You have to take an online course, a vision exam and maybe even a road test.

If a cop, doctor or even a loved one reports that you might have dementia, their DMV will also test you for that. 

There’s nothing that stringent here in Connecticut, but the folks at the DMV can quiz you to see if you’re in mental and physical shape to be trusted behind the wheel, especially if someone has filed a (non-confidential) report.  

Fail any of those and you might get a restricted license limiting your driving.

“Senior drivers self-regulate,” says Tracy Noble of AAA.  “They know to avoid rush hours, high-speed highways and nighttime driving.” 



Some of them also know when it’s time to stop driving.  A friend tells this story: 

“My son-in-law’s grandmother decided to stop driving at 99!  And it was a personal incident that made her realize it.  She was in the Stop n Shop parking lot after shopping, and she couldn’t get her left leg back into the car.  She had to wait until someone parked next to her and that driver helped put her leg back in the car.  When she arrived home she told everyone her driving days were over!”

But what happens if your parents don’t know it’s time to stop driving?  What can you do to persuade them?

AARP offers a great online seminar, “We Need To Talk” that may help you in that difficult conversation.


AAA’s Noble says “Take a drive with them and see how they do.  Look for dents and dings in their car and ask them what happened.  Everyone plans for retirement but they should also plan for driving retirement.”

AAA has an easy-to-take self-assessment quiz for seniors to better understand their risks. Both groups also offer online and in-person safe driving courses that, once passed, will even earn you a discount on your car insurance.

If you can’t drive, you’re not stranded.  Many towns’ Senior Centers offer rides programs and there’s always taxies, Uber and our state’s bus and train system to keep you mobile.

 

March 28, 2024

THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE

With the sad news out of Baltimore this week about the collapse of the Key Bridge, I thought we’d reprise a story I wrote awhile back about NYC’s iconic George Washington bridge.


It’s the bridge we love to hate.  Congested, expensive ($17 toll) and nowhere near as modern as the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the George Washington Bridge is best to be avoided, but often you can’t.

 

The “GW” was not the first New York City bridge designed to cross the Hudson River.  Back in 1885 there were discussions about building a suspension bridge to bring the Pennsylvania Railroad into Manhattan at 23rd Street.  Tunnels proved a better idea in 1904.

 

By the 1920’s it was automobile traffic that needed access and designers conceived of a double deck, 16-lane wide roadway (with an additional 12 tracks for railroads on the lower level), crossing at 57th Street.

 

But it was in 1927 and farther uptown that construction finally began on the George Washington Bridge, crossing from the NJ palisades to 179th Street in Manhattan.  The $75 million single-level bridge opened in 1931 with six lanes of traffic, widened by another two lanes in 1946.

 


Initially the span was to be called The Bi-State Bridge, The Bridge of Prosperity or The Gate of Paradise, but a naming campaign by school kids ended up honoring our first President.

 

Fortunately, the bridge’s designers had planned for future growth and in 1962 the lower level, six-lane “Martha Washington” section of the bridge was opened, increasing capacity by 75%.

 

Unless you see the bridge from the Hudson River, it’s hard to take it all in.  Highway approaches from the east and west don’t give you much perspective.  And it’s hard to play sightseer when you’re coping with all that traffic. 

 

Original plans called for the bridge to be clad in concrete and granite, but the open criss-cross girders and bracing are much more elegant.  Though we take it for granted, the GW is recognized by architects as one of the most beautiful bridges in the word.

 

In its first year of operations the bridge carried 5.5 million vehicles.  In recent years the counts exceed 100 million per year.  While vehicles pay tolls, there’s one way to cross the bridge for free:  by walking.  While offering great views, the bridge’s pedestrian walkways have a dark side… suicide attempts.

 

Though motorists never see it, the bridge also has its own bus terminal on the New York side, sitting astride the Trans-Manhattan Expressway (not the Cross Bronx) serving 1000 buses and some 20,000 passengers each day.  Officially known as The George Washington Bridge Bus Station, the terminal recently underwent a $180 million renovation.

 

The bridge itself also got a facelift.  In 2011 the Port Authority announced an eight-year, $1 billion project to replace 529 vertical suspender wires holding up the roadways.  

 

A great time to cross the bridge is on important civic holidays, including President’s Day, when the world’s largest free-flying American flag is displayed on the New Jersey tower.  Measuring 90 feet in length and 60 feet wide, the flag weighs 450 pounds. 


 

March 22, 2024

SHOULD EVs BE TAXED?

Awhile back I was in Greenwich doing one of my regular talks about transportation and conducted a quick poll, asking the crowd, “How many of you drive EVs (all-electric vehicles)?”   Being Greenwich, about five hands went up.  I congratulated the early adopters of cleaner driving and then said, “You know you’re not paying for our highways… and that’s not fair.”

It’s true.  Drivers of EVs are literally getting a free ride on our highways because they don’t buy gasoline and therefore don’t pay gas taxes, which are used to pay for the maintenance and repair of our roads.


Full disclosure:  I drive a Prius hybrid that gives me double the mileage of my old Honda, so I’m half a freeloader, buying only half the gasoline I used to.

The point is… EV drivers should be paying for our roads just like everybody else. Why?  Because EVs beat up our highways more than traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) cars. 

Due to their batteries, EVs are super heavy.  A Tesla model X weighs over 5000 pounds compared to the average American ICE which weighs 3750 pounds.  Heavier vehicles cause more damage to our roads than lighter ones and should pay accordingly.

Instead, EV buyers are given discounts.  When you buy most new EVs you can get a $7500 tax credit, effectively lowering your purchase price.  Many utility companies will also give you a rebate for installing a home charging system. 

And don’t forget that $7.5 billion in federal money is being used to build 500,000 commercial EV charging stations across the US, one every 50 miles on our interstates.  Without those charging stations drivers won’t buy EVs and we’ve already seen sales slow down this year as a result.  In fact, it’s the plug-in hybrid vehicles (that run on gasoline and electric) that are in hottest demand.


We need to encourage, not mandate by law, a conversion from gasoline to electric powered vehicles to preserve what’s left of our environment.

But how to get EV owners, most of whom are presumably well-off financially if they can afford one, to pay their fair share for the roads they drive on?

Thirty states are now charging EV owners a registration fee of up to $400 to make up for their lost gas tax revenue.  Other states are also adding a surcharge to electric bills:  the bigger the EV, the more electricity it needs for the miles it drives, the more its owner will pay.

Of course, all this could change with the upcoming Presidential election.  Donald Trump doesn’t believe in global warming or EVs, claiming their adoption will cause a “bloodbath” in the US auto industry costing 40% of its jobs.

Should he be re-elected, Trump 2.0 could easily overturn much of the Biden administration’s plans and upend the EV business far more than a small EV tax to pay for our roads.

As for Connecticut EV owners, good news.  Our state’s Special Transportation Fund has so much money from gasoline tax revenues that no EV tax is contemplated here… for now.

 

 

 

March 15, 2024

LICENSE PLATE READERS

We all know how bad the traffic is despite the State Police’s recent ticketing blitz on reckless drivers.  On the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, in just one week, they made 170 traffic stops and issued 150 tickets (including 51 commercial vehicles) totaling $8,000 in fines

That includes the arrest of a Norwalk cop accused of a road rage incident when he tried to run another car off the road.  When even the cops are acting out, you know things are bad.

Aside from radar, red light and speed cameras, some of the best tech being employed by cops these days is license plate readers (LPRs)… special cameras mounted on vehicles scanning license plates on passing cars.  The system recognizes the plate number and sends the data to a national crime database, immediately alerting the officer to violations.


Have an outstanding arrest warrant?  Registration expired?  No insurance?  The LPR will know and you’ll probably get pulled over.

A few years ago when my town was testing the technology, I did a ride-along with a local officer and watched it in action.  The system flashed red so often, notifying the officer, that she couldn’t decide which violator to pull over.

Just last week an LPR in Glastonbury pinged a stolen vehicle leading to a stop where the cop found the out-of-town driver not only had committed a larceny but had no driver’s license.

Some police departments are finding the technology so valuable they’re mounting LPR’s in permanent locations scanning every car entering their community.  They argue that LPRs are no different than having officers’ eyeballs looking for violators, just faster.

Civil libertarians worry about the implications of all this… not, perhaps, the legit arrests but the data that gets stored and can later be reviewed.  Were you driving in town X on date Y?  The database can let them know.

Of course, if you have an E-ZPass to handle your out-of-state tolls, that data is also being collected.  And your driving is also being tracked by your cellphone, equipped with GPS.

But LPRs only work if they can read the cars’ license plates.  So bad guys are now looking to obscure the tech’s vision with plastic covers over their plates.  Some even have a gizmo that, on activation,  pulls a shutter down over the plate so nobody can read it.


This is leading to what NYC cops call “ghost cars” that can evade electronic tolls or the city’s pending congestion pricing toll system.  A recent crackdown against these scofflaws has led to eight arrests, 200+ summons and 73 cars being impounded for toll violations and other fines.

Darien’s police chief Don Anderson tells me he’s got standing orders for his officers to pull over anyone with an obscured plate. 

“I want my officers to have a conversation with that driver… on their body camera… asking them ‘Why do you have these shrouds over your license plates?’… and are you aware they’re illegal (in Connecticut)?  I know why (they have them)… they want to avoid the tolls and speed cameras and drive with impunity.”

 

 

March 08, 2024

NYC SUBWAYS ARE NOT SAFE

It’s not safe to ride the subways in New York City.

Not that the subways aren’t operated safely, it’s just that the people riding them are victimizing each other as well as MTA personnel.  Hardly a day passes without another report of incidents like these:

·       A man is slashed with a box cutter by an assailant spewing anti-LGBTQ remarks, who then runs off.

·       In another incident a 64 year old postal worker is kicked down off the platform, falling onto the tracks.  He was rescued by bystanders before the subway train entered the station.  NYPD has surveillance video but they are still looking for the assailant.

·       An MTA conductor, leaning out of his cab, is slashed in his head and neck requiring 34 stitches.  Again, no arrest.

In January subway crime was up 45%.  The NYPD then sent an additional 1000 cops into the subway. Last week NY Governor Hochul called out a thousand members of the National Guard and instituted random bag checks of passengers entering the system, looking for weapons.  Will that result in weapons arrests or just send the bad guys to another station not staffed with cops?  What’s next… metal detectors?


This is unsustainable and very expensive, especially at a time when the MTA estimates they lost a half-billion dollars due to fare evasion last year, with 12% of all riders skipping the turnstiles.

Clearly, there are too many guns and knives being carried by people in NYC.  Though undoubtedly discriminatory, I wonder if a return to former Mayor Bloomberg’s old policy of “stop and frisk” might not reduce this arms race.

Mind you, these aren’t just one-off crimes.  Thirty-eight people who were arrested in the subways for assault last year were responsible for 1100 additional crimes in the city, according to Mayor Adams.  

The homeless woman who was seen on video attacking a cello player with a metal bottle was arrested in mid-February and set free without bail.  Days later she was arrested again, this time for shoplifting a $235 baseball cap.  This time her bail was $500 (though prosecutors had sought $10,000), but that was enough to keep her in jail… for now.

So the issue is more than just attacks:  it’s about our judicial system which spits people back onto the streets without bail, even when they commit violence.

This lawlessness in New York City is out of control and literal armies of cops and camo-dressed Guardsmen aren’t much of a deterrent.  Even without guns or knives, the crazy (sorry… “mentally unstable”) people roaming the streets and subways are making everyone feel nervous.

What does this mean for Connecticut commuters?  They’re probably safe on Metro-North but when they get to Grand Central they’re understandably reluctant to take the subway to their office. 

It’s just another reason for commuters to persuade their bosses they’re better off working from home, further reducing fare revenue for the cash-strapped Metro-North division of the MTA.

 

 

 

 

 


March 01, 2024

COPS CRACKDOWN, NEW STAMFORD RR GARAGE

Forget what the calendar says, I say it’s Spring!  And with this hopeful season comes good news on the Connecticut’s transportation front.

A reader recently told me my weekly screed comes off sounding like I’m a “cranky old man”.  Guilty, on both counts.  So let’s celebrate these rare glimmers of hope for our roads and rails.

INCREASED TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT:        The CT State Police has announced a new crackdown on reckless drivers to, as one pol put it, “take back the highways”.  Special patrols will be working the interstates and parkways and writing a lot of tickets.


The problem is that this State Police traffic unit is only a quarter the size of what it once was, and the overall force is still only 75% of what it should be.  But even spread this thin, any enforcement may help stop the speeding, red-light-running and impaired driving that has seen death tolls soar in the last few years.

The question is:  why the increased enforcement now?  Why wasn’t this begun months ago? 

The trend in fatalities has been obvious as has the lack of police enforcement.  The more people see others behaving badly on the roads the more they’re likely to do the same thing.

But, it’s Spring!  So let’s take this as good news, albeit it late.

DRUNK DRIVING:            As I wrote last May, Connecticut has a serious drunk / drugged driving problem.  Last year a state lawmakers died in a wrong-way crash and, in another case, a pol flipped her car in front of the Capitol and was arrested for DWI.  Meanwhile, lawmakers have been encouraging more boozing… allowing “to go” purchases from bars while Connecticut is one of only nine states not banning open containers while driving.

Well, this year the Transportation Committee is reportedly considering lowering the blood alcohol limit defining drunk driving from .08% to .05%.  That’s good news… if it passes and there are enough cops to enforce it.

STAMFORD STATION GARAGE:          Lastly, we celebrate the long overdue opening of the massive new garage at the Stamford train station:   914 parking spaces, 92 electric vehicle charging stations, and 120 spots for bicycles.

Rendering of new garage


The structure is beautiful, inside and out, adorned with 200,000 color LED lights you can’t miss while driving by on I-95.  Like the old garage, it’s connected by a covered pedestrian walkway directly into the station.

The $100 million garage was months late in opening and years later than planned. It was back in 2006 that CDOT decided that it would be cheaper to replace than to repair the 1985 garage, crumbling from neglect.  A planned PPP (Public Private Partnership) to do the work got embroiled in political intrigue and a zoning fight with the city and went nowhere.

With the new, larger garage now open for business the old garage will be torn down, a messy project that will take about six months.  The space will then be home to a massive TOD (Transit Oriented Development) project.

Another reason for hope, so Think Spring!

February 23, 2024

RED SEA SHIPPING

What do 15,000 sheep, 7000 US sailors, that order for your new patio furniture and your recent “TEMU haul” have in common?   They’re all affected by the shipping bottleneck in the Red Sea caused by the Houthis.

You may not know or care about the Yemen-based Sunni Islamist Houthis, but their attacks on shipping on its way to and from the Suez Canal are affecting your life and pocketbook.  As they attempt to control the 14-mile wide seaway known as the Bab el-Mandeb (also known, appropriately, as “The Gate of Grief”), the Houthis have recently fired ballistic missiles and drones at 45 ships, including US warships.

Houthi Brigadier General

So dangerous has become this passage, traversed by 15% of global shipping worth $1 trillion a year, that container-ship owners are now diverting their vessels around the tip of Africa, adding 3-4 weeks of sailing time from China to Europe and adding almost $1 million to each vessel’s shipping costs.

It used to cost $2500 to ship one container from China to the US East coast.  Now it costs $6500.  Maritime insurance rates have also soared.  But worst of all, the added delivery delays mean there are about six million shipping containers tied up at sea that should have been emptied and sent back from the next load.

Remember those 15,000 sheep I mentioned?  They were on a ship that sailed from Australia on January 5th, headed for Israel.  But, unable to get through the Suez canal, the vessel turned back after a month at sea with the animals sweltering in a heatwave.

While you can switch from shipping by sea to air freight for some cargos, the price difference can be substantial.  Containers on ships pay a flat rate, regardless of weight.  But air freight costs about $2 per pound.

China’s answer to Amazon, TEMU, ships about 4000 tons of stuff each day, enough to fill 40 777 jet freighters.  TEMU had converted from air freight to shipping by sea last fall, but TEMU is now back in the skies to keep deliveries to about a week instead of a month.

There’s a coalition of 20 nations (10 of them helping anonymously) that is trying to keep the Red Sea open to shipping though most of the work is being done by the US Navy.  The task force is known as “Operation Prosperity Guardian” which explains the mission well.

Until recently the Houthis had only targeted Israeli ships, but more recently they’ve gone after French, Chinese and EU-owned vessels… and the US Navy.

The Houthi’s Iranian-supplied drones have a range of 1100 miles and their ballistic missiles come at their targets at 3000 mph.  This is the first time in history that anti-ship missiles have been fired in conflict. 



So far the Navy has fired about $400 million worth of defensive missiles to stop the attacks, one of which was halted about one minute before it would have hit a US destroyer.

Logistics expert Michael Giambrone from the OEC Group says shipping delays may get worse.  “It’s not a question of if but when” a US Navy ship gets hit by a missile, he told me. 

When American lives are lost on this mission, watch out.  You do remember the Gulf of Tonkin, I hope.

 

 

February 16, 2024

ADDING ONE MORE LANE SHOULD FIX IT

I love doing radio interviews, literally “talking transportation”.  Of course, having worked in radio for 15 years and then spent 40 years teaching people how to survive media encounters, I’m at something of an advantage.  But I do love to turn na├»ve questions into learning opportunities.

Case in point, this recent exchange:

“So Jim… How do we solve the traffic problem on our interstates and parkways?”, asked the radio talk show host.  “Is there room for adding another lane?”

“That’s not the answer,” I said. “Adding lanes to crowded highways just makes them more crowded.  Maybe not immediately, but within a matter of weeks or months.”  The radio host didn’t believe me, but history proves my point:  if you build it, more cars and trucks will come.

Planners and economists call it “induced demand”.  By increasing the supply of something (in this case highway lanes) you in effect lower the price (time spent driving) and up goes the demand (bringing more traffic, more delays).

Consider this analogy:

A local store is giving away free food.  The crowds soon swarm the establishment, muscling out those really in need.  If the store is our highways and accessing them is free (no tolls), it’s no surprise they’re jammed.  The only real cost involved in driving is fuel and time:  the hours you waste in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I-95 in Miami

Building highways is also really expensive, especially here in Connecticut.  CDOT’s plans to rebuild the I-84 / Route 8 “Mixmaster” in Waterbury came in at between $7 and $8 billion.  Now certainly, maintaining existing roads and bridges in the proverbial “state of good repair” is a must.  But expanding the highways isn’t the solution to handling more traffic. 

There are two answers:  tolls and trains.

Driving on our freeways at rush hour shouldn’t be free.  Charge for the privilege and you’ll moderate the demand.  Some may chose to time-shift their travel, but others may take alternatives, like our trains.

Interstates 95 and 91 are both parallelled by robust train lines priced to encourage ridership.  Intrastate fares are kept deliberately low (Bridgeport to Stamford is just $5 one way and New Haven to Hartford is only $8.25, not factoring in multi-trip commuter discounts.)

The billions of dollars not spent to widen those crowded highways would subsidize a lot of train rides.  But getting to your home station and from your destination station to work / school (the “first mile / last mile” challenge) is an additional expense that should also be underwritten.

That’s how New York City’s impending “congestion pricing” revenue will keep funding the bus and subways.  Those willing to pay the price for driving in midtown should see less traffic and a faster trip.  Nobody is suggesting widening NYC’s highways.

So, sorry all you talk show experts out there, the solution to our crowded highways isn’t wider highways.  The simple mantra “adding one more lane should solve our problems” is just a never ending race to carmageddon.

 

 

 

February 10, 2024

STUDENT TRANSPORTATION

In our small town we call it “The SUV Parade”, the weekday ritual-like procession homing in on a handful of targets, carrying that most precious of cargos:  our kids, heading to school.

But why the private car parade when the town already spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on school buses?  Why aren’t the kids on the yellow buses?

Sure, sometimes they have early activities or don’t want to shlep their tuba on the bus.  But often its because the kids don’t think its cool to “bus” when mom (or increasingly, work-from-home dads) can drive them?  Safety is another big concern, especially where there are inadequate sidewalks or kids would have to walk through a sketchy neighborhood. 


Even riding the school bus can be fraught with danger when motorists ignore the flashing lights and decide to pass a stopped bus. First offense for that is $475 and in a construction, utility, traffic or fire zone that move will cost you $925.  There’s even a call for equipping school buses with cameras to catch offenders.

According to the Federal Highway Administration there has been a sea-change in student transportation in the last 50 years, especially since COVID.  Today private cars carry more than half of all students with school buses carrying about 35%.

Interestingly, the parents with the highest education levels themselves are the ones most likely to drive their kids instead of putting them on the bus.  Of course the former group is more likely to be a stay-at-home parent while the less educated are probably headed to jobs themselves.

In a time of tight budgets, “right sizing” school bus routes may be a more attractive source of cost savings than cutting teachers.

But what’s wrong with walking?  When I was a kid, I used to walk a mile each day to and from school… up hill, both ways!  Today bike and foot transport is just 11%.  And those taking public transit is about 4%.

But in some cities, like Hartford, the CT Transit bus system is so disjointed as to make a two-mile trip a 50 min ordeal.  Proponents call student transport a matter of social justice.  They want students to have free bus passes, just like in NYC where school buses are a rarity.

For college students that option is already there: U-Pass.  For just $20 a semester full-time college and university students can ride for free anywhere in Connecticut, even on Metro-North and The Hartford Line (but not on the Amtrak-run trains).  For cash-strapped students this free transportation option often makes it possible for them to attend a school otherwise out of reach.  Plus, they get to use transit to go shopping or attend social events.


U-Pass was the brainchild of then-CDOT Commissioner Jim Redeker back in 2017.  Not only does it fill empty seats on mass transit, U-pass is training the next generation about the value of taking the state’s trains and buses… even if their parents started them out by being chauffeured.

YOU ARE THE TRAFFIC

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic the other day on I-95 I grumbled to myself “Where is all this traffic coming from?”   And then I remembere...